Don't Water That Basil

For the rest of the summer, we’ll be revisiting previous episodes of Last Chance Foods. 


Eberhard Müller’s voice rose to a fever pitch as he spoke about local, seasonal food recently with WNYC’s Amy Eddings.

“You’re doing yourself a favor, you’re doing the environment a favor, by eating locally and by eating a product that’s really, really in season,” said the former chef at Lutece and Le Bernardin. His voice lowered as he reigned in his passion for seasonal food. “We don’t eat potatoes in January or February. We don’t eat basil in January or February. It’s not right. It isn’t meant to be.”

Instead, the time to eat basil is now — when it’s in season and can be paired with its seasonal counterpart, tomatoes.

With his wife, Paulette Satur, Müller runs Satur Farms on the North Fork of Long Island. (Satur and Müller below, photographed by Shonna Valeska.) The farm specializes in salad greens and supplies some of the city’s top restaurant with traditional Genovese basil, as well as green and purple micro-basil.

Satur explained that basil grown on a window sill won’t have the intensity of flavor as the plants grown in the field. “The leaves will be a little softer because it’s not getting the intense light, it’s not getting the wind,” she said. “It’s like grapes. It’s almost like the grapes have to struggle to develop their flavors.”

The trick, however, is not to water right before harvesting. Müller divulged the secret as to why Satur Farms’ wild arugula is particularly flavorful: They don’t water two days before harvesting. “It’s the same thing in potted plants,” he said. “Potted plants you don’t want to water two hours before you clip them. You water the night before and then you snip them for lunch.”

Müller also noted that the biggest difference in the city’s food industry, for chefs and homecooks alike, is availability. Not only are there many more local farms supplying fresh produce to New York City’s restaurants, the variety of vegetables available has grown, as well.

Try a recipe for grilled tomatillo and purple basil salsa, below.

Grilled Tomatillo and Purple Basil Salsa

Food and Wine

  • 1 pound tomatillos, husked
  • 1 large ear of corn, shucked
  • 1 small red onion, sliced 1/3 inch thick
  • 4 slices of bacon
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 chipotle chile in adobo, minced
  • 1/4 cup torn purple basil leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Light a grill or preheat a grill pan. Grill the tomatillos and corn over a moderately hot fire or moderate heat until lightly charred all over, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. Grill the onion slices until lightly charred, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the charred skins from the tomatillos and quarter them. Slice the corn kernels off the cob. Cut the onion into 1/4-inch dice.

2. In a skillet, fry the bacon until crisp. Drain on paper towels and coarsely chop. In a bowl, combine the garlic with the chipotle, then stir in the tomatillos, corn, onion and bacon. Fold in the purple basil, season with salt and pepper and serve.