Sweet basil is one of the few Mediterranean-style herbs that grow well in the tropics and using it to make traditional Italian pesto is a fantastic way to enjoy its spicy flavour.
Basil is one herb you just have to grow in your garden.
Here in Northern Australia, very few European herbs can be grown in the ground. Most just manage to survive in a pot through the cooler months.
Basil is an exception.
It grows vigorously and as long as you can keep the grasshoppers and grubs away from it, bountiful crops are pretty much guaranteed . . .
About 6 weeks ago I planted two young sweet basil bushes in my garden and despite using their leaves regularly in pasta sauces and the like, they have still grown at a phenomenal rate. So much so, that the recent rains made them so top-heavy, some of the main branches snapped off.
Now, I hate seeing things go to waste. I couldn’t stand the idea of all this lovely basil not being used, so I ducked out into the garden between the persistent showers and grabbed as much as I could, as well as a fresh lemon. Looking at the pile of leaves on my kitchen bench, there was only one logical way to use them up.
Homemade basil pesto.
Pesto literally translates to ‘paste’ and is used to flavour many dishes. It can be used on meats and vegetables, in sauces and, my favourite, in pasta.
I’ll give you the recipe I use to make pesto below, and then give you another one showing how you can use it to make a deliciously simple pasta dish with tonnes of flavour.
3 handfuls fresh sweet basil leaves
1/2 clove garlic
1 handful pine nuts
1 handful grated parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
good pinch of sea salt
The measurements I have given above are just a guide. When I make pesto, I never measure anything. So to start off, roughly chop your basil leaves and then throw them into a mortar, add a pinch of salt, and begin turning them into a paste with the pestle.
You can use a food processor instead if you want, but I prefer to do it the traditional way as it gives a more rustic and authentic result with subtle differences in texture.
Choice is yours.
As you as working your way through the basil, slice up half a garlic clove and throw that in as well as you smash it all to a thick, dark green paste. Next add the pine nuts and continue pounding and grinding.
Add a tablespoon of olive oil and half the parmesan cheese. Keep pounding and mixing it together until all ingredients are broken down.
Once you are happy with it, add a good squeeze of lemon juice and the rest of the parmesan. Now stir in more olive oil until everything is combined and takes on a sauce-like consistency (use the picture of mine at the top of the post as a reference).
Taste it and make sure all the flavours are detectable. The aniseed of the basil, the creaminess of the pine nuts, the sharpness of the parmesan, a hint of lemon and the slight warmth of the garlic.
Once you are happy, use it to add a wonderful, fresh herby flavour to virtually any dish.
Here is something you might like to try.
Tomato, rocket and pesto linguine
500 gram packet of linguine
200 grams chopped semi-dried tomatoes
good handful of chopped baby rocket leaves
1 cup freshly made pesto
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
extra virgin olive oil
Bring 3.5 litres of salted water to the boil in a large saucepan.
Add linguine and cook on a rolling boil for 15 minutes or until pasta is just cooked through. Drain pasta, then add pesto and a drizzle of olive oil and mix through.
Then add rocket and semi-dried tomatoes and mix through.
Sprinkle parmesan over the top and serve.