If Basil is the easiest herb to grow, Oregano gas to be a close second. I usually grow mine in 6" pots, placing 3 seeds ina triangle pattern. I have germination in 5 to 14 days.The plants can stand some harvest in about two to three months, taking no more than a third of the foliage. Allow the plant to recover before harvesting more. Last year in late August I transplanted 5 of the 6 inch pots to a 6 foot x 3 foot raised bed. Bt first frost I was able to harvest all of the Oregano I would need for the cominh year, gave away as much as I could and still composted a great deal. This spring the Orefano came back with a vengeance, completely filling the bed and over growing a stand of sage and thyme. I suspect it would be very invasive if not contained.
Oregano at one year
Mexican Oregano is a member of the Verbena family and is native to Southwestern U.S. and Mexico. It is spicier than the Mediterraneam Oregano, which is a member of the mibt family, and is favored in Italian and Greek cooking. Marjaram is considered by some to be a form of Oregano, but it is milder and of a different family group
This is one of my favorite recipes containg Oregasno:
4 half chicken breasts, skinned and boned
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon crushed oregano leaves
dash garlic powder
dash black pepper
4 slices provolone cheese
Coat an 8X13-inch Pyrex baking dish with olive oil across the bottom. Place each half chicken breast in an individual ziplock bag, seal firmly and beat the chicken breast to about 3/8-inch thickness. Follow the same procedure with each subsequent chicken breast half. As they come out of the bag, arrange them in the Pyrex baking dish. Sprinkle spices over top of chicken. Now tightly seal the Pyrex dish with aluminum foil. Place in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. Lay on slices of provalone cheese and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
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Now we have the mundane taken care of, we will move on to the nitty-gritty: How to Grow, Harvest, Use and Save Basil.
Basil is perhaps the easiest plant in the universe to grow. Whether you are planting in the garden or a container, make a depression about 1/4 inch deep (consult the seed packet), cover lightly with fresh soil and keep moist (not overly wet). In 2 to 5 days you should have seedlings. As the plants grow keep them uniformly watered, again don't overdo it. Check the soil dampness with you finger. If its dry to the second knuckle, water the plant. If its wet, let it ride a day.
Basil grows on a straight stem, with leave groups of two large leaves and two small. When the plant has four such groups its time to pinch (harvest) it. Count up to the second group from the bottom and pinch the stem flush with top of the leaves. The two small leaves will grow a new branch each which will again produce leaf groups. In about two weeks each branch will have four new leaf groups and another harvest is possible. The pinching will cause the plant to become bushy and to produce a multitude of new growth. One caution: Make sure you pinch flush with the top of the leaf group. If you leave a stub, it will grow nothing and your plant will be unproductive.
One of the most popular uses of Basil is in the preparation of Pesto. It takes about ten minutes, requires nothing more than a food processor and is great on numerous other foods., Here is the recipe.
Fresh Basil Pesto Recipe
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a food processor, combine the basil in with the pine nuts,(if using walnuts crumble them separately before combining with basil).
Pulse a few times in the food processor. Add the garlic, pulse a few times more. Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serve with pasta, or over baked potatoes, or spread over toasted baguette slices.
Yield: Makes 1 cup
Pesto may be prepared and frozen for later use. In that event, add the cheese after defrosting.
Here is a picture of the finished product:
Another of my favorites is Caprese Salad; Simple as can be:
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 large vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 cup fresh basil leaves
Coarse salt to taste
Freshly-ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
When eating, it is best to include a portion of each ingredient in each bite. The allows the savoring of the combined flavors.
Group Caprese Salad
I prefer to prepare individual plates for each diner.
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Basil can be saved by drying or freezing. I prefer the latter. Shred the Basil into dime to quarter size pieces and place in the cells of an ice tray. Place a drop of olive oil on each piece.fill with water just to cover the Basil and freeze. After freezing, add additional water to fill the tray and refreeze. When frozen, pop cubes out of the tray, place in a freezer bag and return to the freezer. When you need some, remove what is required, thaw and the basil is as fresh tasting as when first picked. It will have darkened, but that won't harm the flavor.
The herb Basil, AKA St. Joseph's Wort, probably first appeared in India, where it was associated with the Goddess Krishna and became a revered element of the Hindi relegion.. The ancient Egyptians used it as an embalming agent. The Greeks considered it to have religious healing powers and kept bowls of basil near the alter of the church. It is placed on graves throughout much of the Midde East as a token of rememerance for the departed. In other cultures it was thought to be an emblem of Satan and became associated with poverty, hate and misfortune. Still others considered it a symbol of love and purity. and a tool for testing one's chastity. (It was thought a sprig placed in the hand of the unchaste would wither.) It became known as the "Herb of Kings" due to its use in the royal baths for its scent.
It arrived in England in the 1500's and was subsequently brought to the Americas by the English settlers. While it was used in India primarily for its aroma, the Western world found it to be a flavourable addition in cooking,
Today there are over 250 varieties, and counting, of the herb. Since it cross pollinates so easily, two separate varieties grown in proximity will almost certainly produce a mutation. As a result, there are cinnamon, lime, lemon, spicy and licorice scented Basils from which the cook may choose.
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As the first post on this blog, a bit of background info might be in order. When I retired in '97 I explored several options with which to occupy my new found liesure hours. I decided model building and woodworking were both too limited and finally settled on cooking. I had cooked a bit pre-retirement and enjoyed it, so this seemed to be a natural avenue. It was here I first encountered the world of herbs. Then, in '04 I suffered a stroke, leaving my left side impaired. Cooking proved to be difficult with only the one hand, so I looked for other fields to occupy my time. Remenbering my brief encounter with culinary herbs, I decided to grow some myself. The herb garden developed into a full time past time and I learned a lot more about herbs. Subsequent posts will deal with various herbs, their history, growing techniques, usages, preserving and an occassional recipe. On the next post I will discuss the herb Basil. Hope you enjoy our prattle.