On the Bright Side: Ideas for Extra Basil

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Fresh basil leaves turn into tasty pesto that you can enjoy months later on a sandwich, in a pasta salad or on homemade pizza.
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Fresh basil leaves turn into tasty pesto that you can enjoy months later on a sandwich, in a pasta salad or on homemade pizza.

We’ve experienced a significant drought in Kansas this summer. Our pastures are in poor condition, several hackberry trees changed color and dropped some leaves in early July, and even the lambsquarters (Chenopodium species) are stunted and wilted. Hot and dry and windy, whew! In spite of it all, we have a bumper crop of basil this year — we harvest it one day and it pretty much grows back the next. We have basil growing in the garden, we have basil growing in an old washtub, and we have basil growing in an old window box liner. Basil seems to love the hot and dry conditions — though yes, we water it now and then — and basil-eating bugs are scarce this year.

Ideas for Extra Basil

So what do we do with all that basil, you might wonder? We use it to make caprese salads with fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil and fresh mozzarella cheese. We also use fresh basil as a zesty garnish for pasta salads, and arrange the largest leaves as a topping on homemade pizzas.

Since we live on pasta and homemade pizza for much of the winter, we also convert that beautiful basil bounty into pesto — and freeze it in half-pint containers. I’m happy to report that despite the drought, we’ll have plenty of summer sunshine to enjoy at the supper table long after the days grow shorter and colder.

If you find yourself with a bounty of basil, here’s a great way to preserve it:

1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
2 garlic cloves
2 cups packed basil leaves, washed and dried
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, optional
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar or lemon juice, optional
1. Combine nuts and garlic in bowl of food processor. Pulse until crumbly.

2. Add basil, oil, salt, pepper and cheese. Process until smooth, scraping down bowl once or twice.

3. Stir in vinegar or lemon juice, which will brighten the flavor and maintain the bright green color of the pesto while in storage. Yields 1 cup (1/2 pint).

Whether you live in town or on 1,000 acres, we’d love to know how you found a bright side to this year’s unusual weather patterns. We’d also like to know how you managed to beat the heat! Send us a short letter — and a photo or two if you can — and we just might publish it in the magazine or on our website.

See you in November,


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper’s Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.

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