In Season: Basil

By Wendy McMillan

More than just the sum of its pestos, basil also boasts an array of nutritional benefits. A mere 2 teaspoons of the dried herb provide 60 percent of your RDA for vitamin K, which promotes blood clotting and helps the body absorb calcium—crucial in building bone density. What’s more, basil’s essential oils inhibit the growth of bacteria, making it a tasty way to stave off infection. Try these simple ways to use this fragrant, flavorful kitchen-garden favorite:

Lemon Sunflower Pesto
In a food processor, combine 2 cups packed basil leaves, 2 crushed garlic cloves, 1/2 cup shelled sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and 1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. Process until texture is even. Add to pasta, or spread on chicken or fish before baking.

Creamy Tomato Basil Spread
In a blender or food processor, combine 3/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes, drained, one 8-ounce package cream or Neufchâtel cheese, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1/2 cup basil leaves. Process until smooth and then blend in 1/4 cup crumbled feta. Enjoy as a veggie dip, sandwich spread, or topping on French bread toasts with diced tomatoes.

Whole-Grain Basil Bread
In a small bowl, dissolve a packet of yeast (1 1/4 ounces) in 1 cup warm water, and let stand. In a food processor, pulse 1 cup packed basil with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon honey, and a teaspoon garlic powder. Combine yeast and basil mixture with 3 cups whole-wheat flour and 1 cup whole oats. Knead into dough, and let rise, about an hour. Bake 30 to 35 minutes at 375 degrees.
Quick Tip: For a savory pizza crust, eliminate the oats and reduce both honey and oil to 1 teaspoon.

Orange-Basil Sorbet
In a large saucepan, combine 2 cups fruit-only or all-natural orange marmalade, 2 cups fresh orange juice, and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer until smooth and syrupy. When cool, stir in 1/4 cup finely chopped sweet basil. Churn the mixture in an ice-cream maker, according to manufacturer directions. Freeze.