I should really have done something about it earlier in the summer but I didn't get round to it. As you can see from my armful of the stuff in H's pic, some of it has already gone on to flower before I've got to it which I shouldn't really have let happen. Anyway today I felt action needed to be taken before, never mind the flowers, it turned into Jack's Beanstalk complete with an unpleasant giant at the top of it!
The main reason I grow my basil forest is to make pesto. Opinions vary as to whether it's worth making one's own pesto. You can of course buy very good commercially produced pesto, either long-life or fresh. I have to say though, that however good the commercial stuff is, homemade pesto leaves it standing. It's not difficult to make although you do need enough basil. The recipe I use, requires 4 oz of leaves and because they are so light that is a heck of a lot of basil. Especially when you bear in mind we are talking about just the leaves and the weight should not include the stalks as these make the finished pesto fibrous.
You also need garlic - a couple of cloves, peeled and smashed; (Yes, I am going to use that stone brought back from the beach to smash the peeled cloves! Works a treat and the other gizmo I use, a kind of bobbly ceramic dish I bought in a market in Provence, that you rub the garlic to a paste on, was locked in the dishwasher.)
some pine nuts, 2-3 tbsps preferably lightly toasted in a hot oven or under the grill; (Watch them though, they go from golden to black in the blink of an eye!)
some salt - coarse sea-salt for preference, about 2-3 tsps;
grated Parmesan cheese - about 3oz for this quantity of basil leaves;
and plenty of the best green extra-virgin olive oil you can lay your hands on. I don't know precisely how much because I pour it by eye - probably not less than a quarter of a pint, may be more even.
You also need ideally a food processor although traditional Italian mammas make pesto with a large pestle and mortar. Mrs T is lazy however and finds the food processor the best option.
Weigh out the leaves and pile them into the bowl of the processor. Squash them down a bit to make room for your other ingredients. Add in your toasted pine nuts, smashed garlic, Parmesan and salt and pour in a good glug of your best olive oil. Whizz. You may well need to add a bit more oil - it takes quite a bit to achieve the beautiful thick green viscous sauce you are after. It should be the consistency of double cream, certainly no thicker. It tends to thicken up a bit anyway after it's made.
And if you are worried about the amount of oil going in, remember that you are only going to need a teaspoonful or two of this per person for each serving of pasta, so in each plateful there will be barely a teaspoonful of oil. And this quantity of olive oil is only going to do you (and your hair) a power of good!
Once whizzed to the consistency you are after, the result should be stored in lidded glass jars in the fridge although I find it best to bring it to room temperature before using for best effect - you don't want it fridge cold when it hits pasta hot from the pan.
You don't have to make the full quantity if you don't have enough basil - make it with just 2 oz of leaves and proportionately less of the other ingredients but much less than that and you'll find it won't blend properly. You need enough of the ingredients to engage the food processor blades fully. Don't be tempted to use a stick blender or anything that doesn't have a powerful puréeing action - it just doesn't work properly and you'll end up with an unsatisfactory, lumpy paste and probably a lot of oily mess to clear up that won't give you the sense of bien être that should accompany pesto-making. If you don't have a food processor I would go the traditional route of the old pestle and mortar although you may not be able to handle such big quantities unless your mortar is big.
It keeps surprisingly well, especially if you pour a little extra oil over the surface, certainly weeks rather than days. Not that it often lingers in this house for that long!
I am sure I am biased but it always seems to me greener, more aromatic and more vividly intense than anything I can buy.
It's fantastic of course in the classic combination with pasta - linguini is my favourite with it and as I say you need very little to flavour a whole plateful - it is seriously intense in flavour. But it also works a treat if you are making white bread rolls, with half a teaspoonful snuck into the centre of each shaped piece of dough and with the dough sealed around it before baking as usual. You might think it a waste to use homemade pesto in bread like this but take my word for it - it isn't! It also stretches the pesto if you haven't got a huge quantity and makes it sing for its supper, or rather, sing for your supper! And by the way the rolls freeze beautifully too.
This afternoon's basil-forest-felling has made two jars of the magic green stuff. Slightly alarmingly, the forest looks as Triffid-like as it did before! So, more is out there! Can't be bad news though! As its name implies, ("basileus" is the Greek for "king"), basil is the king of herbs...
... Vive Le Roi!
(along with his minions, in the form of a hot plateful of linguini and a glass of cold white wine!)