January in the kitchen and garden
It’s that time of year when love is flourishing in the garden, and that love is the bond between basil and tomato. This complementary relationship extends beyond the garden, straight into the kitchen and is one that cannot be matched. It’s said that tomatoes taste sweeter when they are grown surrounded by basil. Planting tomatoes and basil in the garden with family is such a beautiful experience and there is nothing sweeter than watching young children harvesting from the garden and popping ripe tomatoes wrapped in basil into their mouths.
The best time of the year to plant basil in a temperate climate is September to February, October to January in a cool climate and if you are up in the Northern region of Australia, August to January. Basil thrives in full sun, with some protection from the wind. It is the perfect plant for growing in pots, but don’t forget to water regularly. Around 8- 10 plants should keep a family of 4 going throughout the season, with plenty left over to make some jars of pesto to keep the basil love going throughout the winter.
In Victoria, it is tradition to plant your tomatoes on Cup Day weekend, but I am finding that each year I am planting a lot earlier than the year before. This year my tomato plants went in, in October and the vines were full of tomatoes ripening just in time for Christmas and beyond.
One of my favorite things to do every summer with family and friends is passata making, a weekend is nominated and the ritual begins. Tomato passata is fresh pureed tomato. A few years ago, I purchased a nifty plastic passata machine which separates the pulp from the sweet passata. This passing of the tomatoes to remove the seeds and skin is where the name passata is derived from.
Tomatoes need to be ripe for maximum flavour and colour. The tomatoes are washed and blanched in boiling water until the skins are soft, then passed through the machine. The passata is collected in a tub and the sterilized bottles are filled with 2-3 basil leaves placed on top. The sealed bottles are placed in a large stock pot and any gaps are filled with tea towels, the bottles are covered with water. Simmer at boiling point for around 1 hour and leave the jars in the pot to cool. The bottles of passata are stored in a dark cool place for up to 12 months. What an amazing way to enjoy the summer harvest all year round.
By Jacqui Lanarus
Community Outreach Program Manager