In the past, I’ve been pretty casual about buying basil plants for my garden. Basil is basil, right? You go to the nursery, buy some basil (Ocimum basilicum) and plant it. Well, if you’re like me and you’re mainly growing it to make your own pesto, you might be better off planting Italian varieties like ‘Genovese’, ‘Italian Pesto’, and ‘Profuma di Genova’ over plain old basil. The Italian cultivars are considered superior because of their larger leaf size, mild taste and complex fragrance.
So, pesto lovers, look for key words like “Genovese”, “Genova”, and “Italian” when shopping for basil seeds or plants. I will… from now on.
What would all this basil talk be without a recipe?
While not a pesto recipe, it does use fresh torn basil leaves. Enjoy this easy-to-make, delicious dish. I … (loosens belt)… just did.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, once around the pan in a slow stream
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 cup vodka
1 cup chicken stock
1 can crushed tomatoes (32 ounces)
Coarse salt and pepper
16 ounces pasta, such as penne rigate
1/2 cup heavy cream
20 leaves fresh basil, shredded or torn
Crusty bread, for passing
Heat a large skillet over moderate heat. Add oil, butter, garlic and shallots. Gently sauté shallots for 3 to 5 minutes to develop their sweetness. Add vodka to the pan (3 turns around the pan in a steady stream will equal about 1 cup). Reduce vodka by half, this will take 2 or 3 minutes. Add chicken stock, tomatoes. Bring sauce to a bubble and reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.
While sauce simmers, cook pasta in salted boiling water until cooked to al dente (with a bite to it). While pasta cooks, prepare your salad or other side dishes.
Stir cream into sauce. When sauce returns to a bubble, remove it from heat. Drain pasta. Toss hot pasta with sauce and basil leaves. Pass pasta with crusty bread.
(Tuesday, March 28 update: I found Genovese basil plants at Capital Nursery on Sunrise and Genovese and “Italian basil” plants at Windmill Nursery in Carmichael. Also picked up some seeds of Genovese. The plants are gonna hang out in the greenhouse until warmer weather. Ah… warmer weather.)
Mountain Valley Growers has a nice pesto recipe.