Lemony pasta primavera with lemon basil

It is amazing how good a simple dish can taste when all the ingredients are fresh and the preparation is minimal. This simple pasta primavera was a big hit with us yesterday and a lot of credit goes to the discovery of lemon basil in addition to all the other fresh ingredients. Did I tell you I have found my new best herb-friend in this lemon basil ;) I have read about a few bloggers who grow and cook with lemon basil. I am always curious when I read about a new vegetables or a new herb, so lemon basil was sure something in my to-try list. Needless to say I was so excited when I happened to stumble across this lemony herb yesterday at the farmer's market.

Usually my Saturday morning lunch menu is decided right when I am doing the groceries. I pick up whatever looks good that day and then cook something around it. A lot of fresh tomatoes are adorning the markets these days I suppose as a sure sign of approaching summer. I picked some up and settled on making some spaghetti with tomato sauce for lunch. Then I went to my usual herb-stall to pick up a batch of basil. As I was picking up my basil a lady next to me sniffed a basil-ish herb and exclaimed to me in delight that she had never quite smelled anything like that and asked me if I had an idea how much these herbs generally cost. I told her they are $1 a bunch usually and she said at that price she could pick up the entire crate and freeze it. I thought it was basil but then she mentioned something about a lemony smell; my curiosity got the better of me and I picked up the herb myself. Sure enough it had the most aromatic lemony basilish smell that I have ever sniffed! I immediately picked up a batch less she should live upto the promise of buying the whole crate! On my way back home I ended up revising the menu from spaghetti with tomatoes to a simple pasta primavera with lots of olive oil and lemon basil.

Lemon basil (picture below) is a hybrid between regular basil and an African basil giving it that distinctive lemonish aroma and a taste with notes of lemon zest and basil. At the first byte I felt the lemon and then much later I felt the basil but after a few more bytes the lemon basil left such a wonderful refreshing almost mouth-cleansing lemonish after-taste in my mouth! Needless to say, I am in full-blown search to find a small sapling or seeds of lemon basil to grow in my veggie patch.

Have you used lemon basil? Any experience growing it?

Recipe: serves 2 as main dish
8oz butterfly pasta
1 leek (or 1/2 large onion)
1/2 red pepper
handful of cherry tomatoes
2 green garlic strands (whites and greens) OR 3 large cloves of garlic
1 yellow squash (or zucchini)
handful of fresh lemon basil leaves
lots of olive oil
crushed red chili flakes
salt & pepper
parmesan cheese (optional)
zest of half a lemon
juice of half a lemon

  1. Heat water in a large pot. When water starts to boil add enough salt and dried pasta. Bring the water back to boil and cook stirring occasionally for 10mins or until the pasta is al-dante. (Once the pasta is ready before removing the pasta from the cooking water, reserve 1C of pasta cooking liquid which we will later use as a sauce).
  2. Meanwhile slice the leeks thinly. Wash them well to clean any dirt trapped inside and set aside. Chop the garlic and yellow squash, halve the tomatoes and cut the red pepper in thin julienne slices.
  3. Heat 1Tbsp olive oil in a large pan. Add chopped garlic and saute for a minute or two on low heat.
  4. Add leeks and saute until the leeks are tender.
  5. Add squash, red pepper and saute for a few more minutes.
  6. Add chopped tomatoes and cook covered for a couple of minutes until the tomatoes become tender and wilted but not mushy.
  7. Add the reserved cooking liquid (1/2C only; add more later if the pasta seems dry). Add the cooked pasta and stir well.
  8. Add lots of lemon basil, a drizzle of good quality olive oil, salt, pepper, crushed red chili flakes and parmesan cheese (if using) and serve.