When it comes to basil, purple is the new green.
Got (or want) basil in your garden? You'll find links to all of my basil growing posts, as well as more of my favorite basil recipes, at the end of this post.
2011 Update: Farmgirl Fare readers offer up even more ways to use fresh basil here.
I have no idea how it happened, but spring 2007 found me and my kitchen garden completely basilless. Thankfully a gardening friend—whose tiny city garden I usually supply with plants—was kind enough to share a couple of basil seedlings with me, including a purple one.
I'm not very adventurous when it comes to herbs, and I'd never grown purple basil, but begging gardeners can't be choosers so I gratefully took what he offered and stuck it in the ground.
The purple basil plant flourished. It was gorgeous, but I didn't know what to do with it. I love fresh basil in all kinds of dishes, and I loved the color of these leaves, especially how they're outlined in green, but the thought of blackish purple basil pesto—or blackish purple basil anything for that matter—just didn't seem appealing.
My dear friend Kat, who writes the scrumptious blog, She's In The Kitchen, suggested I make basil vinegar with it: You fill a large jar with half white vinegar, half cider vinegar, stuff it with purple basil, and let it steep for a week. Then you strain it and pour the resulting gorgeous magenta vinegar into a pretty bottle with a few sprigs of fresh basil.
That sounded nice, but I wasn't sure what I would do with the vinegar either.
First harvest of the 2011 season: a pound of Red Rubin basil from three plants.
I decided to appeal to my garden blog readers, begging them to tell me what they would do if they had a beautiful purple basil plant in their garden. They quickly came to my rescue with all sorts of delicious ideas, including:
—Add it to a white bean salad with some red peppers and green onions
—Throw it into a pot of beans, tomatoes, potatoes, zuchinni, and onion
—Put it in a red sauce made from fresh tomatoes
—Garnish anything that the flavor of basil will complement
—Stir into a slaw of chopped carrots, fennel bulb, and garlic just before serving
—Make purple basil lemonade or, better still, purple basil watermelon/honeydew melon agua fresca
Soilman in England suggested I put it in Mussels à l'Italienne and even offered up his recipe: Chopped onions sweated in olive oil for a few minutes. Add a few glugs of white wine and lots of chopped tomatoes plus tomato purée. Pour your mussels (cleaned and de-bearded) in, cover and cook for 5-10 minutes. Put into bowls with lots of chopped purple basil.
I couldn't wait to tell my city friend that I'd figured out what we could do with our purple basil. He listened patiently with a slight smile on his face as I recounted all these creative ideas. Then he said, "I turned mine into pesto."
"It was the best basil pesto I've ever had."
"It was like pesto on steroids."
"And it wasn't even that weird of a color."
So I skipped all the wonderful suggestions and turned my entire purple basil plant into the best pesto I've ever tasted instead.
Homemade purple basil pesto on homemade pizza (my easy pizza dough recipe is here)
Farmgirl Susan's Low Fat, Full Flavor Purple Basil Pesto
Makes about 1½ cups
**Click here to print this recipe**
This lower fat, reduced calorie pesto, which calls for less olive oil than most recipes, is bursting with freshly picked garden flavor. The tomatoes are a healthy way to replace some of the olive oil while adding a subtle new flavor.
When portioning out basil (and so many other ingredients), it works best if you weigh it rather than pack it into measuring cups. A digital kitchen scale is a worthwhile and useful investment, and once you have one you may wonder how you ever lived without it. I often use my Oxo 11-pound kitchen scale several times a day. The pull-out display is awesome, and it's also great for weighing postage.
Don't have any purple basil? Just use green instead!
1/2 cup (about 2½ ounces) roasted & salted whole almonds
3 to 6 cloves garlic, peeled
4 ounces fresh purple (or green) basil leaves (about 4 cups packed)
1 ounce (about 1/2 cup) finely grated Pecorino Romano (or other hard cheese)
10 ounces fresh tomatoes (about 3 smallish) any kind, quartered
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more to taste
In the bowl of a food processor use the S-blade to whiz the almonds and garlic until finely chopped.
Add the basil, cheese, tomatoes, and salt, and process until thoroughly combined and the consistency you like.
With the motor running running, slowly drizzle the olive oil through the chute. Add more salt to taste if desired. Store your pesto in the refrigerator for several days or freeze.
Except for the fact that purple basil isn't as pretty as the green and does make a rather oddly colored pesto (as you can see in the photo above), I would probably quit growing the green stuff altogether. Mixing a few green leaves into the pesto does help brighten it up a bit.
Unfortunately my friend couldn't remember what kind of purple basil we were growing, so I figure I'll just work my way through every purple variety I can find and do some scientific taste comparisons. There are even certain types of basil plants that are half purple and half green.
I didn't forget to plant basil seeds this year, though I did get a rather late start. Five different types of basil, including Purple Ruffles and Purple Osmin, plus a mixed variety surprise pack are just now sprouting in little containers, but I have high hopes for a bumper summer crop. (And besides, my tomatoes won't be ready for ages either.) 2011 Update: I had really good luck growing Red Rubin basil (see photo above).
I might even turn part of my purple basil harvest into something other than pesto. But don't hold your breath, especially since I've discovered such a delicious way to use it.
Homemade pita chips: tastier than store bought & made in minutes
Really Easy White Bean Pesto Dip / Spread
**Click here to print this recipe**
Opening a bag of cheez doodles and pouring them into a bowl would probably be a slightly easier appetizer to make than this, but they wouldn't taste nearly as good - or be as good for you. This stuff isn't exactly beautiful, but trust me when I say that no one will notice.
The consistency of this spread will vary depending on the type of beans you use, how well you drain them after rinsing, and the thickness of your pesto. I made one batch with Great Northern beans and a slightly thinner pesto and ended up with a dip rather than a spread.
If it's too thick for your liking, simply thin it out with a little olive oil or water.
Cans of organic beans are an organic bargain and a handy staple in my farmhouse pantry; I buy them by the case. I really like Eden Organic brand beans, which are organically grown in the U.S.A. on family farms, have no salt added (I prefer to add my own), and are packed in BPA-free cans.
1 15-ounce can organic white beans, such as cannellini (also called white kidney beans), drained and rinsed
1/2 cup homemade or purchased basil pesto
1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano or other hard Italian cheese
Salt to taste
Combine beans, pesto, and cheese in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the 'S' blade and whiz until smooth. Salt to taste.
Serve with pita chips (check out my easy recipes for homemade pita chips and pita bread, plus easy pita pizzas), crackers, raw veggies, or a spoon.
This spread improves with age, so try to make it a day ahead. Of course then you'll also have to try not to gobble it all up before serving time comes, but fortunately the recipe can easily be doubled.
After coming up with this recipe while my foodie mom was visiting last fall, I've become slightly obsessed with white bean dips. Sometimes I even have them as a main course (because I eat so much I don't have any room left for the actual main course).
It turns out that almost anything can be successfully mixed with a can of white beans (where have I been?), and I'll be sharing some of my other favorite creations soon.
More posts about basil:
9/21/06: How To Keep Your Basil Growing Into Fall
6/20/09: Harvesting the First Green & Purple Basil of the Season and the Best Ways to Store Your Fresh BasilBad Luck with Basil and Some Basil Growing Tips
More Farmgirl Fare recipes that call for basil:
Savory Tomato Pesto Pie with a No-Fail Biscuit Crust (one of my most popular recipes)
Easy Homemade Italian Sausage with Fresh Basil, Oregano, Garlic, and Fennel Seeds (no stuffing any casings!)
Simple Fresh Tomato Pizza Sauce (no blanching or peeling required)
Linguine or Farfalle with Sun Dried Tomato & Artichoke Pesto, Cherry Tomatoes, and Fresh Basil (I practically lived on this stuff last September)
Still hungry? You'll find links to all my sweet and savory Less Fuss, More Flavor recipes in the Farmgirl Fare Recipe Index.
© FarmgirlFare.com, where there can never be too much fresh basil, no matter what the color.