If there was an AAS category for an edible plant with ornamental value, this AAS Winner would fit that classification. Dolce Fresca (“Sweet Freshness”) produces sweet tender leaves that outshone the comparison varieties while maintaining an attractive, compact shape that’s both versatile and beautiful. Use the leaves as you would any Genovese basil and it makes an excellent pesto.
Dolce Fresca basil is great for gardeners looking for a tidy basil with large harvest opportunities, foodies interested in a new and better basil, and anyone who wants that fresh Mediterranean taste added to their cuisine.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a culinary herb of the family Lamiaceae. It is also called the “king of herbs” and the “royal herb” possibly because of the name’s meaning in Greek. It is best known as a culinary herb prominently featured in Italian cuisine, and also plays a major role in Southeast Asian cuisines.
How to Grow
To grow this tender annual from seed, sow about 6 weeks before the last frost or throughout the warm season. Sow seeds and cover with the growing medium to about twice the depth of the seed. Keep soil at 70-72 degrees F and keep moist. Basil seedlings are very sensitive and most losses occur due to low moisture and low temperatures. Let them grow to 3 to 4 inches before transplanting.
Read more Seed Germination Tips
Transplanting and Growing Outdoors
Basil likes the warmth of the full sun to grow best. Set outdoors only after soil and air temperatures are warm. One chilly night can set plants back.
Dolce Fresca can be directly sown in the garden after the soil has warmed up and nights are not too cool. Be sure to sow to a depth of twice the size of the seed or heavy rains may wash the seeds away.
Succession planting every 2-3 weeks will keep a nice supply of basil on hand all summer long. Pinching or harvesting small bits of 4-6 leave sets will encourage more growth.
Growing in Containers
Container gardens are a great option for this herb. Choose a container at least 10” wide, fill with a good quality potting soil and you will be rewarded with a generous and beautiful plant that you can harvest for weeks.
Harvesting is super easy just by pinching off the top ends of a branch. Dolce Fresca will quickly regrow shoots to produce more branches full of aromatic leaves. After harvest, Dolce Fresca is quick to recover and keeps the desired ornamental shape that’s perfect for containers, borders, or as a focal point.
Growing and Harvesting Tips
Working with Dolce Fresca:
Dolce Fresca basil can be dried, frozen in ice cubes, frozen as prepared pesto, or used fresh. Blend fresh basil leaves with pine nuts, oil, garlic, and cheese for a bright green, fresh-tasting pesto, perfect for pasta, potatoes, fish, or grilled meats. It is also good for making flavored vinegar for salad dressing or suffused in oil for flavored oil.
Fresh Basil Pesto
- 3/4 cup pine nuts
- 3 cups stemmed fresh basil leaves, packed
- 1 1/2 cups olive oil
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 4 medium garlic cloves
Spread the pine nuts on a baking sheet and carefully toast them in a 350 degree F oven until golden brown. Watch closely to guard against burning. Cool completely.
After pine nuts have cooled, put all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until sauce is coarsely chopped. Scrape down work bowl then process until smooth or to desired consistency. If the pesto seems thick you can add some water now or when using. Taste and add salt if needed.
For best flavor, toss with freshly cooked pasta right after draining.
Heating basil can cause bitterness.
Sun-dried tomatoes are a wonderful addition to any pesto dish.
Low-fat version: Substitute 1/2 chicken broth, 1/2 cup lemon juice, and 1/2 cup olive oil for the full 1 1/2 cups of olive oil.
Adding parsley: Adding 1/2 to 1 cup of fresh, flat-leaf parsley adds even more "fresh" flavor and green color.
Other nuts: Almonds and pistachios make excellent substitutions to the pine nuts. Roast and cool as directed for pine nuts.
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