Saturday, 24 July 2010

A Pot Of Basil

This is the famous Pre Raphaelite painting Isabella And The Pot Of Basil, based on a poem of Keats, and depicts the heroine Isabella draped over a pot of basil in which she has, somewhat gruesomely in my view,  buried the head of her murdered lover. The basil seems to be doing quite well, which is surprising in the circumstances, since basil is a mediteranean herb and prefers quite hot and dry conditions, which would presumably not be found in the humus rich environment of a composted head. But that's artists and poets for you. No horticultural training at all.

This is my own somewhat less romantic pot of basil.
I've never thought, even on a difficult day, of burying David's head in it, it's far too small for a start, and come to think of it, if you look at the painting, Isabella's other half must have had a remarkably small head to have been accommodated in that pot, allowing as you must, for the roots of the plant and a reasonable amount of John Innes No 3.


Anyway, my basil has done remarkably well this year. I've often found that I had much less basil than I would like so this year I sowed a line of seeds alongside my tomato plants when I planted them out, and the ones in the greenhouse have done very well. The ones outside have fared less well, they do have fleshier leaves but far fewer of them.

But it's always feast or famine in the garden and my plants were starting to produce flowers before I could use them all, so I cut them all off at about four leaves from the base (so they can sprout again for a second cut) and brought a great armful into the kitchen.  I have made a pot of classic basil pesto (basil leaves, garlic, olive oil, parmesan, pine nuts, seasoning in proportions to suit you all whizzed together in the blender). Float a layer of oil on the top to prevent discolouration. Keep it in the fridge. You will notice I have very efficiently dated the pot so that I will remember not to keep it too long. Low acid food in airless conditions like this has a very slight chance of playing host to botulism, and that's not something we want to be trifling with is it. It's the reason commercially made sauces like this are always acidified and therefore taste terrible. The risk is extremely slight, so I don't suggest you worry too much about it, but  I always think that knowing about and understanding the "science bits" makes us better consumers. So all the more reason to stuff yourself and your family with as much as you can manage to eat for a few days, and keep the rest in the freezer.

 Basil isn't the easiest herb to store, but if you have a surfeit freezing is the way to go. I wouldn't add the nuts and cheese before freezing as they won't keep as well, and you can add them later if you wish. Just whizz up the basil leaves with some olive oil and you can either freeze it in ice cube trays, or as I do, just freeze it in a flat sheet in a plastic bag and break it up when it's frozen to make pesto or add to soups, sauces or pasta. Disembodied heads are entirely optional.

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