Gardening: Fresh-grown basil a showstopper in recipes

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News
Grow your own fresh basil so you have a constant supply.

My favorite herb is basil, but I only use it when fresh, so it’s a staple in my garden. In fall, I process it in a blender with olive oil and freeze it for use in winter. 

My sister-in-law, Susie Schultz from Metamora, makes a delicious and simple to make appetizer by spreading basil pesto on sliced quarter-inch-thick coins of green zucchini, dusting them with a bit of fresh grated Parmesan, topping with a halved cherry tomato and popping them under the broiler until the cheese melts.  

My favorite recipe is a basil pesto pasta salad made by mixing basil pesto in warm rotini pasta and adding chopped tomatoes, cucumber and onions  marinated in a separate bowl with wine vinegar for an hour or so.  After mixing, add salt and pepper to taste. The flavor improves if allowed to rest overnight.  I made up this recipe and am a dumper so I can’t give exact measurements.   

If you’re a basil-loving gardener and have been troubled by disease in past growing seasons, there’s good news. Proven Winners has introduced a new variety, ‘Amazel’ Basil, that is said to be mildew resistant.  It matures to 3 feet in height and produces scads of Genovese type flavored leaves. The other good news is the flowers of ‘Amazel’ are sterile and it’s slow to bolt and not as sensitive to cold as other varieties, so it stores better in the refrigerator and can handle a 40-degree cold snap.      

Basil is a warm-weather plant that becomes stressed when subjected to the cold, and it can affect the flavor of the herb. For best flavor, put off planting outdoors until the night-time temperatures are consistently 65 degrees or above.  And don’t buy plants that have been exposed to cold temperatures. 

It will be many weeks before I will be harvesting ‘Amazel’  basil from the garden, so in the meantime I’m growing it as a micro green in my kitchen. Grown to the cotyledon (first leaf) or second true leaf stage, it’s ready for harvest in 16 to 25 days. While I won’t harvest enough to make pesto, I can use the tiny greens for Caprese salad and tasty garnishes for other dishes. 

Appearances: Join me at English Gardens Plymouth Nursery for my program "Kitchen Gardening: How to Grow Sprouts and Microgreens" at noon April 27  or 1 p.m. April 28. Programs are free.  For more information, go to or call (734) 453-5500. 


Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at