Food & Drink

Plant herbs like basil for summer use

The gardener came alive in me last weekend. It was a gorgeous day — one of the first warm days of spring. And it was time to plant.

Donning jeans, tennis shoes and my favorite T-shirt, I was off to the garden center, hoping to find sturdy basil plants, a spring ritual for me. I also needed thyme and tarragon, as well as chives. Normally, chives are the easiest of all herbs to grow — they come back every year and are one of the first plants to peek through the ground in early spring.

My chives are looking sad, thin and spindly — probably from being overharvested for too many years. I use tons of them not only in recipes but also for plate garnishes.

Of course, I needed flowers, especially geraniums or hibiscus for the big pots on each side of the driveway and something colorful and easy to maintain for the deck.

I found everything I wanted, and then some. My cart included a beautiful gardenia in full bloom; it was so fragrant I just had to buy it.

And top soil, not only for raised beds but also for pots. The bags of soil filled most of the car trunk, so I had to carefully place many plants in the back seat of my car and on the floor.

As I unloaded the car, I wondered whether I could get all of it planted in one afternoon. Good thing I did not have a truck — no telling how much I would have hauled home to plant. A few hours later, I was tired, happy and feeling like I'd had the best workout ever.

I can't wait for my first herb harvest. A sprinkling of fresh herbs stirred into a dish is one way to elevate your food from good to extraordinary. This is the perfect time to plant a few herbs for summer use. If you don't have a garden space, a big pot of herbs on the deck will be enough to add lots of sparkle to your summer cooking.

Here is my favorite recipe for pesto.

Basil Pesto

1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and blotted dry

3 cloves garlic

1/4cup toasted pine nuts or walnuts

1/2teaspoon salt

1/4teaspoon black pepper

2/3cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2cup extra virgin olive oil plus 1 tablespoon to seal

Combine all ingredients except olive oil in food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until basil is finely chopped.

With motor running, slowly pour in 1/2 cup olive oil and process a few seconds until all of oil is absorbed. Stop motor, scrape down sides and process for another 5 seconds. Transfer pesto to a container with lid. Top pesto with remaining olive oil. Cover tightly and store in refrigerator up to 1 week. Makes 1 cup.

From "Cooking With Bonnie: Farm to France."

The Wichita Eagle—05/11/11