Who Loves Ya, Basil Baby?

Although still in a Sunday morning fog, I grabbed my market bags off the hook and stumbled out the front door for the few blocks to my neighborhood farmer's market.

Basil: Not just for tomatoes anymore. (Kim O'Donnel)

On my short walk, I began formulating my mental shopping list for the week, not paying attention to the fact that I was nearing the white canopies of the market. Suddenly, I was greeted with an alluring perfume, a mix of anise and flowers that immediately lifted me out of my somnambulistic state. "Wow," I said to myself out loud, "what smells so good?"

One more step led me underneath a vegetable seller's canopy where the mystery was solved. Of course. It was the basil making all that aromatherapeutic magic.

She was everywhere I looked, on display at nearly every vendor and graciously infusing the atmosphere -- allowing us to ignore the fumes of traffic if only for a few hours.

With plenty in my backyard, I refrained from buying, but on whiff alone, the basil filled me with inspiration. Should I get tomatoes to go with and make a salad? Wait. No. Basil isn't just for tomatoes anymore.

In addition to its classic tomato partner, basil plays nice with several other (and overlooked) garden pals.

For starters, consider the watermelon. A few leaves of shredded basil placed on top of watermelon chunks imparts magical flavor and aroma, transforming simple summer melon into some kind of wonderful. (Try it with cantaloupe, too.)

Sliced peaches also love partnering up with basil, in a salad or salsa -- or better still, try it in peach cobbler or peach pie! Wowee. Everyone will try to figure out the magic ingredient and won't believe it when you reveal the mystery.

Corn is another suitable dance partner -- on or off the cob. Imagine a corn kernel salad with basil, red onion, chopped cherry tomatoes, red onion and a small amount of curry powder. You'll see how the basil ties everything together, calling all ingredients into action. Corn on the cob is a whole new dish when topped with a slab of compound butter of basil, cayenne and lime zest.

Other basil-friendly contenders: Grilled eggplant, with a mix of mint and garlic, and when in season, mango, sliced, served over rice, topped with - you got it - shredded basil.

What are you favorite ways to use fresh basil? Share in the comments area below.

By Kim ODonnel |  August 14, 2006; 9:27 AM ET Farmers Markets , Seasonal Produce
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Wow, perfect timing. I plan to spend part of this afternoon making tons of pesto with my crop of basil. But I think I'll try a little on some watermelon, too. Yum.

Posted by: Liz | August 14, 2006 10:51 AM

These are great ideas. Basil is terrific stuff. I am especially fond of cinnamon basil, which has a slightly sweeter, spicy quality. I saute garlic in butter or olive oil, add teriyaki sauce (you can just use tamari and brown sugar, with maybe a little mustard), white wine and lime zest to make a sauce for baked or grilled salmon. Just before serving, I add shredded basil. It's delicious.

Posted by: JMB | August 14, 2006 11:51 AM

When you have way too much basil in the garden and don't want to go to the trouble of pesto,just put chop leaves in food processor and mix with land of lakes new "skinny butter". It is really canola oil with butter flavor and comes with a ready made container for stashing in the freezer. Then all you need to do is cook the pasta come winter.

Posted by: Linda | August 14, 2006 12:42 PM

I put excess basil in the food processor with enough olive oil to make a paste. I freeze in ice cube trays and once frozen, put into a zip lock bag. One cube is enough to perk up homemade spaghetti sauce in the winter.

Posted by: Deb | August 14, 2006 1:14 PM

In addition to using it as part of a tomato salad, I like to use it in an omelet - some goes in while its cooking the rest goes on after its has been plated. It does a wonderful job of enhancing and bringing everything together.

Posted by: Doug | August 14, 2006 5:18 PM

As I am allergic to mint, I use basil in any recipe that calls for mint. It's very good in tabbouleh and most other middle eastern recipes that call for mint. In addition, it's great in white bean dip with beans, dill, garlic, olive oil, etc.; in summer soups; and in salad dressing (the Naked Chef has a good recipe for one). How much basil would you put in a peach pie, and is it minced or thrown in the food processor?

Posted by: Ali | August 16, 2006 2:09 PM

Soupe au pistou. Never made it, but always wanted to.

Posted by: Pestostan | August 16, 2006 2:48 PM

Several years ago in the spring we bought a basil plant when we got our tomato and pepper plants. We planted it in the middle of the garden and let it grow. It had flowers on it and smelled so good till the frost got it in late October. Abundant bees and butterflys that didn't care for sweaty gardeners. They pollinated everything. Harvested tomatoes, peppers, cukes, squash and corn in laundry baskets every day. I had planted 2 cuke seeds and got at least 8 laundry baskets of cukes. Basil was waist high and 3 ft wide. Thought about making pesto and taking it to farmers market. My garden was ment for 2 people. I fed the neighborhood and canned and froze enough that year for all year. My garden will never be without a basil plant again. Now all we need is some rain in North Texas. Have fun.

Posted by: LK the Texan | August 21, 2006 7:41 AM

I use fresh basil on sandwiches and homemade pizza. It makes almost any ingredients taste better, but I particularly enjoy it with portabella mushrooms, broccoli and zucchini--as well as the customary tomatoes.

Posted by: Carrie | August 21, 2006 11:47 AM

Does basil grow well indoors? Love the stuff always use teh dry and sometimes the fresh at the grocers when on sale.Would like to grow herbs in the kitchen until next spring. It was so hot here this summer in NC everyone who had a gareden did well!

Posted by: MJ | August 21, 2006 12:53 PM

At long last the figs are fully ripe, laughing off the long months when they were hard chartreuse balls bobbing in the chill winds of a too-cool spring.

Their heady perfume calls out to the basil. She in turn brings friends together -- warm-hearted comrades, eager to celebrate the passing of a year marked by that fleeting slice of time when figs are ripe and basil is plentiful in the garden.

"You should make a tart, Mom!" says Monica, who moved away for college just before the reluctant figs turned ruby-red-purple. She'll dream of the tart in San Francisco where 4 or 5 figs will cost her almost six dollars at the farmer's market; six dollars she will not spend on figs, now so plentiful in her mom's back yard.

But, there will be no tart. Not from my oven. I yearn for the company of my special friends, Kim, Robin and Marybeth. How splendid it is to appreciate friendship over a salad of fresh halved figs, basil, and gorgonzola cheese, anointed with a good green olive oil and sprinkling of walnuts.

Marybeth will no doubt bring the wine.

Posted by: Karla, S. Arlington | August 22, 2006 5:32 PM

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