Packed into my garden among the winding cucumber vines and towering tomato plants, basil is taking over.  I’ve tried growing this quintessential summer herb in years past without success.  Instead of producing full, lush bouquets, my young plants grew spindly and yellow, yielding barely enough leaves for one insalata caprese.  This year, I learned the secret to an ample basil harvest:  regular pruning.  To get your single-stemmed, young basil plant to branch out, pinch off the top set of leaves and few inches of stem just above the second set of leaves.  As the plant grows, it will branch from the pinch point.  Once the new branches each have a few sets of leaves, you can pinch their stems in the same fashion.  This produces a large, bushy plant that you can harvest at will — just make sure you always pinch off stems immediately above a set of leaves.

What to do with the copious fruits of my new-found knowledge?  Versatile, freezable pesto is an obvious choice.  We have no pignoli or Parmesan in our now nut- and dairy-free household, so I gambled that a simplified version using just basil, garlic, olive oil, and salt would be good enough.  Indeed it is!  What my sauce lacks in the earthy richness of the original it makes up for with a bright, peppery zing.  Use it in any way you would use traditional pesto — with pasta and grilled, sauteed, or fresh vegetables, on pizza, with chicken, or drizzled over thickly sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese.

Basil-garlic sauce

Yield:  Makes about 1 c.

8 c. fresh basil leaves (from 2 fat bunches), loosely packed

4 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

Combine basil, garlic, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.  With machine running, slowly drizzle in oil.  You want a loose and spoonable — but not excessively oily — consistency.  If puree is too thick, add a bit more oil a tablespoon at a time.

Basil-garlic sauce keeps for up to 5 days in the fridge, or about 3 months in the freezer.

We ate it this week tossed with pasta, chicken, and cherry tomatoes from the garden, and on a pizza with sauteed zucchini and red onions (add fresh ricotta or mozzarella, if you like).