Although basil is native to tropical regions from Central Africa to Southeast Asia, it flourishes in our summer gardens. We commonly season Italian-inspired dishes, like sautéed zucchini and onions, or tomato-based pastas with basil. It’s also used in Chinese and Thai food, especially soup.

Once harvested, it makes a beautiful bouquet that lasts several days in a vase or mason jar filled with water, as refrigeration turns the leaves black.

It should be washed immediately before using, then added the last minute or two of cooking or sprinkled on food just before serving.

Basil’s the most commonly used herb in pesto, a flavorful spread with many applications. Pesto has been used in cooking for a very long time, dating back to the eighth century B.C. during the Roman Age. It’s thought that the Romans used a variety of herbs in pesto making, and parsley is another great choice.

Basil or Parsley Pesto

1 cup fresh basil leaves or tender stems, or 1 cup of flat leaf parsley

1 – 3 cloves garlic

1/3 cup pine nuts, walnuts, almonds or pecans

3 – 6 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

½ teaspoon salt

Finely chop ingredients in food processor

1/3 – ½ cup olive oil

Add olive oil and process the mixture a little more, until a thick paste is made.

Instructions:

This pesto recipe will last in the refrigerator for a week. I like to make a large batch in the summer and then freeze enough to get through the winter months. You just drop mounds or balls of the paste on a sheet pan and place in the freezer. Once frozen, scrape them off into a freezer container. They can be thawed in a short time on the counter or in the microwave for 20 seconds.

A classic way to use pesto is to season pasta. This salad is great served cold or hot.

Tomato Pesto Pasta Salad

Serves 8

Ingredients:

¼ cup lemon juice

Zest from 1 lemon

¼ cup pesto

¼ teaspoon salt

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

½ cup thinly sliced Kalamata or black olives

12 ounces whole grain pasta, cooked and rinsed with cold water

8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, diced

½ cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese

Freshly grated black pepper to taste

Instructions:

In a large bowl, stir together lemon juice, zest, pesto and salt. Add remaining ingredients and mix until thoroughly coated.

Pesto is also a tasty and fast seasoning for salmon.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a salmon filet on baking sheet and top with pesto.

Bake on a low rack in the oven for 3-4 minutes, then move to a top rack and broil on low for another 1-2 minutes, depending on how done you like it, until inside temperature is 145 degrees.

A few other ways to use pesto:

  • Mix into Greek yogurt or sour cream for a dip
  • Spread on pizza dough
  • Add to salad dressing
  • Season your bread
  • Spread on your sandwich
  • Top bread with pesto, fresh mozzarella cheese and tomato

Margie Mansure, M.S., R.D. is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and extension agent with NC Cooperative Extension. She offers personalized classes to improve the health of citizens in Watauga County through worksites, schools and community groups. Email her at margie_mansure@ncsu.edu or call (828) 264-3061.

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