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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Basil flourishing in this summer’s hot weather

The summer’s hot weather has been perfect for growing basil. The leaves are ready to harvest when the plants begin sending out buds.  (Pat Munts/For The Spokesman-Review)
The summer’s hot weather has been perfect for growing basil. The leaves are ready to harvest when the plants begin sending out buds. (Pat Munts/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Pat Munts For The Spokesman-Review

One good thing that has come out of all this hot weather is that the basil is going crazy. Basil needs warm soil and warm temperatures to grow at its best, and we’ve had that in spades this summer.

I waited to seed my basil until mid-May and planted it outdoors the middle of June. The soil was still a bit cold but within two weeks things heated up and it took off. My garden tends to be colder than the rest of the valley, so I planted it in my community garden box which is in the center of the Spokane Valley. The box is filled with good quality compost, and I fertilized the basil about two weeks later. This last week, the plants started blooming so it’s time to get the pesto making stuff out and harvest the leaves.

The pesto we eat today with basil as an ingredient was created in the mid-1800s when gastronomist Giovanni Battista Ratto published his book, “La Cuciniera Genovese,” in 1863. Pesto is thought to have had two predecessors that dated back to the Roman times. Moretum was a popular paste created by the Romans by crushing salt, cheese, herbs, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and vinegar together. It was served with a wide variety of dishes. In the Middle Ages, Italian Genoese incorporated a mash of garlic and walnuts called agliata into their recipes.

In general, pesto is more of a generic term for anything that is pounded together. Originally, pesto was ground together in a traditional mortar and pestle. Today it is often made in a food processor or a blender. In our modern cooking, pesto isn’t just made from basil anymore. Many leafy greens have found their way into a mixture of olive oil, garlic, walnuts or pine nuts and cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano (or what we call Parmesan) or Romano. Pesto can be made from cilantro, parsley, baby spinach, fresh or dried tomatoes or red peppers. Along with traditional pine nuts, walnuts and almonds can be used in the recipes.

One thing to remember about a pesto recipe is that it is very flexible. Almost all the ingredients except the olive oil can be varied to individual tastes.

To make pesto, gather fresh leaves the day you make it. Basil leaves bruise easily and turn dark when left to sit. Stem and wash the leaves. In a blender combine the basil or whatever you are using with whatever nuts you choose. Pulse the machine to begin chopping the mixture. When it is starting to turn to a paste, add the minced garlic and then stream the olive oil slowly into the mixture. Stop and scrape the sides of the processor bowl as needed. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Place in a container and press plastic wrap into the surface to keep the pesto from turning dark. Store in the refrigerator or freeze for later use.

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Correspondent Pat Munts can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com

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