Our ingredient of the month, Basil

At Roots, much of our inspiration for fresh food to grow and delight our customers with has come from visiting our favourite European destinations, a number of which are in Italy. When it comes to cooking with fresh ingredients, Italian cooks seem to have it sorted and so it will be no surprise that our favourite ingredient of the early summer, inspired by this part of the world, is wonderful Basil.

At Roots we grow not just one, but SIX different varieties which all have a different purpose. We begin sowing seeds every few weeks from late March until June, a tiny pinch of three to five seeds in each cell of a seed tray (or just spaced out in a regular seed tray if that’s what you have) covered lightly with vermiculite, watered from underneath by standing the seed tray in a dish of water and placing them in a warm sunny spot (they don’t like being wet or cold – they are Italian!).

Within three to four weeks a clump of tiny plants will emerge that can be potted on or, as we do, planted out into beds in our greenhouses. By early June we cut our first crops, pinching back growing tips to breaks further down the plant not only provides the best leaves for cooking, but encourages stronger growth from the plant which will continue to provide plenty of fresh basil until the late autumn.

Simple Basil Pesto

You will need a large pestle and mortar or a blending stick / food processor. Ingredients can be varied to taste, but classic basil pesto is made with garlic, pine nuts, parmesan, extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil.

Firstly, crush a clove of garlic with a pinch of salt and then add a really large handful of fresh basil leaves (the big, fat-leaved Genovese type is best) with some pine nuts (40-50g).

Continue grinding and crushing until a coarse mixture is achieved, then begin to add extra virgin olive oil, approximately 3 tablespoons, pummelling away until the mixture is smooth.

Now mix in some grated parmesan, a similar quantity to the pine nuts, a scrunch of black pepper and taste before adjusting salt if necessary. Fresh pesto will keep in a refrigerator for up to a week, but we usually use it in just one, maybe two sittings, it is so easy to make that making a fresh batch doesn’t take long.

Toss in pasta, new potatoes, drop into fresh soup, drizzle over salad, spread on bread and layer in roasted veggies for the ultimate toasted sandwich or toast with chopped tomatoes for delicious crostini.

And as for the other varieties;

Greek Basil – tiny leaves with wonderful flavour ideal for salads, pizza and pasta

Purple Basil – deep purple leaves with strong flavour, tear over fresh tomatoes

Thai Basil – spicy, almost hot, delicious sprinkled on top of a hearty dish such as tagine

Lemon Basil – delicate, lemony, perfect torn over fresh fish or chicken for grilling

Cinnamon Basil – a culinary variety with hearty flavour but used by us more as a pretty foliage with amazing scent to add to bouquets of flowers!