Sat July 28, 2012
Garden Report

When Life Gives You Basil and Garlic, Make Pesto!

Garlic and basil are fairly easy to grow in Colorado, and both are delicious on their own. But when you combine them with a little olive oil… you get something that is more than the sum of its parts. KUNC Gardener Tom Throgmorton explains...

The first cutting of basil is ready in the garden. The garlic is dug. There’s a reason garlic and basil are ready to harvest at the same time. It’s pesto. There is nothing like fresh, out of your backyard pesto for dips or pasta.

When the leaves of the garlic we planted last fall turned brown, we lifted the bulbs. The bulbs are curing in an airy, dark place so a thicker skin will develop. We’ll continue to let the bulbs cure and they’ll keep for six or eight months.

There are three types of garlic. Softneck has a soft, limp top. It’s the type that can be braided. Softneck has two to four layers of cloves. It is the type usually found in the grocery.

Stiffneck leaves stand up straight and strong. They usually have only one layer of cloves. Elephant garlic produces large bulbs that may have only a few cloves. But those cloves may be bigger than the whole bulb of other varieties.

Basil, like most other herbs, is most flavorful just as it starts to bloom. The flavor and aromatic oils are concentrated in the plant at bloom time.

Basil can be harvested a number of ways. A few leaves can be cut and used. That keeps the plant productive. Or the entire plant can be cut for a one time harvest.

We prefer to maintain an ongoing harvest. We cut the branches a few inches above the soil. The cut is made just above a node. The node is the place where the leaves meet the stem. Cutting above the node lets the plant re-grow from the node. This method makes a bushier, more prolific plant.

In the kitchen the basil is rinsed and the leaves plucked off the stem. The fresh leaves are an intense flavor for salads. They can be chopped and used in sauces. Pesto is created by combining basil in a food processor with olive oil and your fresh garlic. You can add nuts to enhance the flavor or cheese to make it creamier. 

In a Mediterranean climate you can grow all of the ingredients for pesto. Unfortunately in our climate olives don’t grow. But you can grow most of what you need in your own yard. If you forgot to plant garlic last fall, look for some at your local farmer’s market.


Hate peeling garlic? Try this handy garlic trick from Saveur magazine.

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