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Garden in the City: Blackened Basil Won't Kill You, But It Ain't Pretty

By Patty Wetli | October 28, 2013 10:14am

LINCOLN SQUARE — With frost in the forecast, I harvested my entire crop of basil last week, rinsed the leaves, wrapped the bundle in a plastic grocery store bag and popped it in the refrigerator.

Because saving herbs from freezing temperatures by placing them in freezing temperatures makes perfect sense. To no one but me.

After dangling the promise of pesto pizza in front of Dave for the past seven days, only to play Lucy to his Charlie Brown and yank it away at the last minute, I finally felt inspired last night to take the food processor down from its shelf and pulse some pine nuts. 

I pulled the basil from the fridge and it was ... not pretty.

Half the leaves had shriveled up and dried out. The rest were clearly on the road to brownish-blackish decay.

Was it still edible?

Having subsisted on hot dogs for a week, Dave didn't care.

"One of these days, we're going to get food poisoning," he said. "I'm not going to worry about it tonight."

Alrighty then, pesto it was.

He chopped garlic while I picked off whatever basil leaves were salvageable, basically anything that sported the slightest smidgeon of green and didn't crumble to dust in my fingers.

I wound up with three scant cups of leaves out of an entire plant, good for about half a recipe of pesto or pretty much the perfect amount for a single 12-inch pizza.

I'm not gonna lie, the resulting pesto looked like something you'd upchuck. I quickly covered the unsightly sauce in a layer of cheese.

And yes the flavor was a bit wonky. But nobody wound up in the emergency room with their gut on fire and, really, isn't that all anyone wants from a homecooked meal?

Obviously, there was a lesson to be learned here. Basil is one sensitive little plant.

Here's what I should have done: Cut the stems and placed them in a jar of water in a warm and sunny spot, like the delicate flowers they apparently believe themselves to be. Alternately, I could have misted paper towels with water, gently layered them with basil leaves and stored the lot in an airtight container.

But the real moral of the story, as I see it: basil gone bad won't kill you.

Peppers go bananas: A quick update on my ongoing pursuit of ripened red peppers. I picked a peck of green peppers on Friday and put them in a paper bag with a banana. Supposedly this will speed up the ripening process.

"It looks ... unnatural," Dave said, as I nestled the banana in with the peppers.

It is unnatural, this attempt to fool Mother Nature. And so far, the peppers aren't falling for it.