This Basil wasn’t Fawlty

Last year at this time of the year we were suffering a heat wave, so much so that the orto struggled. My tomatoes were burnt off by blazing sun, the cucumber ran to seed and everything suffered apart from the pumpkins. This year is a much different story, the weather has been kinder, we’ve had oodles of early summer rain and things are flourishing.

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I’ve already picked several courgettes and cucumbers and my tomatoes are putting on some good growth, so there’ll be plenty of passata made this year. Confidence in the harvest can be seen everywhere. Piero at our local restaurant has a sign up advertising his tomatoes for sale; Well he does have over 3,000 plants.

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Once again my pumpkins have got off to a good start with them taking over the orto like something from a 1950’s B movie, they’ve swamped the butternut squash, but I think that’ll do it some good as it doesn’t like it too hot. I’m pleased that I took advice to dig up my Scotch Bonnets and put them in a pot. They’ve over wintered really well and now have lots of small fiery chillies coming. The French beans are doing their thing in a small bed and I’ve a handful of cabbages growing merrily away.

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The thing I’ve been really pleased with is the Italian basil. Over the past few years I’ve tried all sorts of basil and it either takes forever to germinate and grows into spindly little plants or just sits beneath the surface refusing to pop up. I had purple basil a couple of years ago and it was disappointing, as was many other varieties. But this year I bought a packet of Italian basil seeds and hey presto they were poking out of the soil in days and so far I’ve already cropped 4 bags full and am storing it in the freezer.

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I’ll be cropping again today, cutting it back quite harshly, but there’s no need to worry as it’ll send out side shoots and very soon there’ll be more basil for caprese salads and chopping up and adding to passata. Because of the risk of botulism I don’t make infused basil oil and store it in the cupboard, what I do is make it fresh, by heating basil leaves in oil and then letting it go cold and using it that day.

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Freezing is a good way to store basil, chop and wash then pat dry and freeze in a plastic bag, a day or so later crush the contents in the bag and you have flaked basil ready to add frozen to sauces later in the year. Maybe I’ll have a go at turning the next cropping into basil jelly.

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As a extra note having had 2 messages from non UK people thinking I’d spelt ‘Faulty’ incorrect. Fawlty was a UK named hotel owner in a British TV comedy series played by John Cleese.

Ants in Your Plants

It’s been very hot here these past few days, Italy has had a mini heat-wave, but this morning it’s quite cool. I check on the plants growing in my mini orto. There’s some more courgettes, young and tender that need to be picked and a couple of tomatoes have donned their red jackets, so they can come out of the plot, a couple of white onions are a good enough size to harvest . I notice that ants have taken up residence my cayenne plant and as I pick a couple of the orange chillies they dash across my fingers eager to protect. I’m not worried by this, it’s rural Italy and a few ants wont ruin my day. As I walk back to the house the iPod shuffles and the strains of Hungry like the Wolf, by Duran Duran drift out into the Italian countryside.

Back inside the kitchen with my collected bounty I set to, preparing it for storage. I chop it all up and add a couple of garlic cloves, I sweat the onions off and then add the courgettes followed by the chillies and tomatoes, last to hit the pot is the garlic. I add a little water and let it simmer away until the contents of the pan have softened. I don’t season with salt and pepper as I’m going to divide the mixture once cold and freeze it.

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Now cold, the mixture is divided up into three portions and popped into the freezer and now I have a sofrito base for three pasta sauces that I can use when the season has ended. A few minutes in the morning will save me a few euros in winter time, and the memory of a summer morning will be released into the saucepan.