The leaves had taken over.
Just like that.
Like that scary R.L. Stine novel I once read to my son, the one he’d beg me to continue late into the night while he hid under the covers with his flashlight. The title, Stay Out Of The Basement, was catchy enough, but my son had chosen it because of the book’s cover: a close-up of an alien green plant-hand pulling open the basement door, vying to get out.
Stay Out Of The Basement was all about a father who was a scientist and started messing with houseplants in the family basement. DNA gets mixed. Floricultural madness ensues.
I won’t give away the ending but things germinate in crazy ways.
I thought of that book when I saw my latest basil plant.
Without warning it had gone nuts, sprouting so hyperactively that it deemed its own locked basement.
For years I’d been trying to nurture my basil plants to life.
In my house, cooking with basil is second nature, like breathing air.
But basil plants never stuck around long enough for me to simmer in my bolognese sauce or carefully layer in my caprese salad.
I tried every logistical option, hoping location was the problem for my plants who, to put it mildly, weren’t thriving. But it didn’t matter if I placed them on the far northeast corner of the garden (more sun in the a.m., less in the p.m.) or at the southwest tip by the lake (more sun in the p.m., less in the a.m.) or even if I plopped them smack in the center where I could gaze at them while I worked in the kitchen. Whatever the location, my basil plants, one by one, always shriveled up and died.
Friends and family offered their condolences. They know what such a loss means to me. And then they doled out advice. Lots and lots of advice:
You’re not talking to it enough!
Water it a bit in the morning!
Let it sit!
Move it indoors!
Take it out!
Caring for basil can become a full-time vocation if you’re not careful.
Which is where I was headed until I planned to go on a trip.
A fabulous trip that would lead me far away from my home and my latest floundering basil plant.
I was going to be gone for two weeks so I brought my current limp, leafless plant indoors and set it on the kitchen counter next to the note I left for Rosi, the lady who would be watching over the dog while I was gone. The note was short and simple:
Vet number: (954) 667-3300
Help yourself to whatever food you want.
If you remember, please water the plant.
I returned from my trip with an array of new adventures and was greeted by an excited, happy dog. The house was quiet and tidy, not yet hit by the tsunami of my children and their stuff. I looked around to make sure everything was in place, and it was, it all looked good, all looked great, until…
What was that?
My eyes stopped at the kitchen counter. There was an explosion of green.
Leaves that toppled over and grew wide, reaching and leaning towards the window.
Is that my…I thought to myself, remembering the anorexic basil plant I had left behind.
Backpacks, suitcases and family members were all hustling past me, happy to be home, while I stood there frozen in disbelief.
The plant was transformed, like the mad scientist father.
I quickly called Rosi and asked her what she had done to the plant, hoping she’d reveal a secret elixir I could use from now on, but she laughed casually and answered in her usual happy tone:
“Nothing, I just watered it, like you asked.”
I don’t want to think about it too much. Because I could go nuts analyzing what happened. It could become personal, if I’d allow. Like, “What gives Basil Plant, I fuss over you, rotate you, have even spilled my deepest, darkest secrets to you and you practically die on me while sweet, kind, Rosi waters you once or twice and you thrive?” I fear it would give me the worst possible answer: it’s not you, it’s me; an overused line I wouldn’t believe, couldn’t believe, seeing how the plant was obviously happier without me. Plus, it would be weird to break up with your basil plant. Even I know this.
Things could get ugly, or I could get really, really down.
I’m not gonna do that, no. I’m going to take the high road and do the gracious thing: thank Rosi and then make lots and lots of pesto! Maybe, I should also start planning another trip…
Man o man, is this easy! I have a Vitamix, which means, I find excuses to blend everything and this pesto is perfectly quick, fresh, and versatile!
Put this on anything! Really…anything! Spaghetti, sandwiches, boiled potatoes, & grilled chicken are great places to start.
Pesto is usually made with pine nuts but that can get expensive! Try walnuts instead- it's just as tasty and kinder on the wallet!
- 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ cup toasted chopped walnuts
- ½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (use the real deal here, it makes a difference!)
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- salt and pepper to taste
- Place leaves in blender or food processor. Add cheese & nuts.
- Turn blender on low, carefully remove lid and slowly start drizzling in olive oil. Slowly, ok? You’ll see the pesto start taking shape.
- Once it is smooth you can put the lid back on and crank the blender up for ten seconds or so. I’m not sure it that actually does anything, but it feels good and gives the whole blending process closure.
- Now, scoop it out into a bowl and add lemon zest and any salt and pepper.
If you want your pesto to retain that beautiful bright green color you can add a pinch of Vitamin C powder.
Pesto freezes really well! Just fill up an ice-cube tray and once frozen, pop those into a Ziploc bag! Each cube = 1 serving and will thaw quickly in the microwave.