The humid air in my kitchen today is infused with the tantalizing scents of garlic, roasted pine nuts, and, most importantly, basil. This morning I cut the tops off my dozen mature basil plants and got to work making pesto sauce. Cutting the plant’s branches back to a young set of leaves helps it become a fuller, more productive plant. I also pinch off any larger leaves, and any flower stalks. This way, the basil will retain its sweetness rather than take on a bitter flavor.
As well as making two cups of sauce for myself, I packaged up bundle of basil to take to a friend who owns a small eatery in town. Basil keeps well if placed in a plastic bag with a dry paper towel to absorb any moisture. Leave the bag loosely opened to allow air circulation, and keep it in a cool place (not necessarily the refrigerator.) Alternately, you can treat it like a bouquet and keep the stems in a jar of cool water.
For the same friend, who bakes focaccia rolls at her shop, I potted a small rosemary plant. To help keep it well-drained, I used a 1:2 combination of regular potting mix and cactus soil, and put it in a terra-cotta pot rather than plastic. I also sprinkled in two rinsed and crushed egg shells to add calcium and lime, nutrients that make rosemary happy. The plant should enjoy living behind the shop’s huge plate-glass window where it will get a good deal of direct sun for a good part of each day.
Finally, I am very happy with the growth of my garden sage. Soon I will cut some branches and hang them in a dark place to dry. Its savory, woodsy flavor is key in a dry rub I love to use on pork chops.