Pesto has got to be one of my favourite foods, and I love to add it to pasta and turn it into dips. See my recipe for ricotta and pesto dip here. This year I decided to grow my own Sweet Basil with great results.
When growing sweet basil, you need to prevent it from flowering to get a good plant that produces lots of leaves. Every time you see flowers forming, pinch them off, and this will force the plant to bush out and give you a much better harvest of leaves.
The problem for me is that I have been away promoting my new book, Sugar-Free Home Preserving, and when I did get back to the farm, all my Sweet Basil had flowered, and I now had loads of flowers to pinch off and dispose of. That seemed like such a waste to me so I wanted to make use of them if I could.
The flowers can be used just like the leaves in foods, so I first filled a few trays of my dehydrator.
I filled two x 250ml jars with dried flowers that I can now add to soups, stews, and any tomato-based dishes.
I had plenty of flowers left, and I wanted to try something different; Sweet Basil infused olive oil. To infuse fresh herbs, you will need to acidify them first, as not doing so risks contamination with Clostridium botulinum. Acidification prior to infusing the oil has been tested and works well with fresh garlic, basil, oregano and rosemary. The University of Idaho in the USA researched and tested this method. Look here for more information:
You will need to make a 3% solution using citric acid and then immerse the fresh herbs in this solution for 24 hours. To make this solution, you will need one tablespoon of citric acid and two cups (500 ml) of water. Do not substitute another acid. Only use citric acid for this to ensure safety. Once the basil has been soaked in the 3% citric acid solution for 24 hours, it is ready to be used to infuse the oil. Remove the basil from the acid solution and let it drain.
I used an empty 500ml jar and some extra virgin olive oil. Wash the jar in hot, soapy water and rinse well. Dry before adding the flowers, and then top up with the oil. Be sure that the flowers are completely covered by the oil, as any flowers above the oil will go mouldy.
Seal the jar and place it in a warm spot in your kitchen. Stir once a week. After a month, strain the oil through a coffee filter or fine sieve and discard the flowers.
Store in a sterilised bottle. If you want to, you can place a few fresh leaves in the bottle for decoration. Be sure to label the bottle with the type of oil and keep it in the pantry, out of direct sunlight.
This aromatic oil has an intense flavour that is ideal for cooking, but to be honest, my favourite thing to do with it is to use it as a dipping oil with some homemade crusty bread.
As always, live well.