You don't have to be a gourmand to grow culinary herbs, especially Italian basil. In fact, it is child's play (and with supervision, it's a great activity to share with children). Even if you don't have gardening experience, growing basil can show you that you actually do have a green thumb, whether you decide to grow them in pots or in the ground.
Genovese Basil aka Italian Basil
Genovese basil, also known as Italian basil is one of the most popular of the basil varieties and the one most frequently used in cooking, especially Italian cooking. The plant has dark green leaves about 3" long and can grow up to 30 inches in height. Interestingly, basil, an annual plant, is a member of the mint family.
Basil is a heat-loving plant, so be sure to sow organic seeds or seedlings in full sun after the last frost and when the soil is warm. If the temperature drops below 50 degrees, the leaves will likely turn black. Either cover the plants, or harvest them so you won't lose them.
Plant basil seedlings 12 inches apart. Be sure to pinch off the center shoot after 6 weeks to encourage bushiness and prevent it from bolting (that's when a plant goes to seed and eventually dies). Water soil gently and regularly.
When harvesting, morning hours are always best for herbs as that is when they are their most pungent and succulent. Do not put harvested basil in the refrigerator, as it will turn black. If you are not ready to use the basil immediately, place the stems in a glass of cold water and place in a sunny spot. The plant will stay fresh that way for a few days. If you keep in water even longer, roots will likely sprout and when long enough, you'll be able to plant additional basil.
Frozen basil keeps its color and taste much better and fresher than does dried basil. To freeze basil, wash and dry thoroughly. Place in plastic freezer bags and pour just enough olive oil in the bag to cover the leaves front and back. Gently press all the air out of the bag, close and pop into the freezer. It can last up to one year.
If you want to dry your basil harvest, wash and dry thoroughly. Then remove all of the leaves from the stem and place them on paper towels in a dark, well-ventilated place. You can also tie an entire plant upside down on a hanger and put in your closet, as long as it gets enough air. Check frequently to see if the basil has completely dried.
Cooking with basil
Cooking with herbs is really fun. Be creative and use fresh basil with a variety of other herbs and spices in meat dishes, pizza, tomato basil soup, stir-fries, spaghetti and vegetable casserole dishes. You can even make basil vinegar salad dressing.
When cooking with fresh basil, add to the last 10 minutes of cooking. Otherwise, the flavor will be lost before the dish is finished. Dried herbs are more potent, so use about two-thirds more fresh than you would dried.
A quick basil recipe – Broiled tomatoes and basil
For a quick and tasty appetizer, slice up tomatoes, place one basil leaf on each slice, drizzle some olive oil on it, sprinkle with mozzarella cheese, and put under a broiler for a few minutes. Watch closely and remove as soon as the cheese melts. Yummy.