Isabella and the Pot of Basil

July 14, 2008 · 13 comments · Print This Post

in Garden / Crafty

Isabella and the Pot of BasilLike Sarah Jessica Parker’s cringe-worthy character, Meredith, in The Family Stone, please allow me to fly my “freak flag” for a moment: Recently my friend Anna took me out on a post birthday date to the MFA followed by tapas and sangria at Tapeo. Surprisingly the highlight of our outing wasn’t the fabulous sangria or the entire plate of meat and cheese that I guiltily chased it with, but a painting. The painting actually caught my eye as soon as I entered the gallery it solemnly hung in. It was dark, and dreary, and very creepy, but like those late night airings of Poltergeist and The Ring almost impossible to look away from. I love scary movies. I really do, and I watch them religiously from behind the safety of the palms of my hands while I cower and shake.

Isabella and the Pot of Basil is the title of the painting. It was composed by John White Alexander who based his portrait on an earlier work done by William Holman Hunt. Each depicts a scene from John Keats’s poem Isabella, or the Pot of Basil. In the poem, Isabelle’s brothers murder her lover Lorenzo. Lorenzo’s ghost comes to Isabelle in the night and tells her what her evil siblings have been up to, so she digs up his grave, removes his head, and plants it in a pot of basil. Now that’s what I call commitment. The painting is downright melancholy and the story behind it so tragic and dare I say romantic, that Anna and I both made a beeline straight for the gift shop and scoured the shelves until I found a postcard printed with the image. Eureka! The freaky basil painting was mine.

Last weekend I planted a small herb garden in a window box on my balcony. Now every time I look at that towering green basil blowing in the breeze I think of Isabella. And now so can you…aren’t you happy I told you about it? Be on the look out for herbtastic filled recipes in the weeks ahead, and I can assure you that CK’s head will not be coming in contact with any Miracle-Gro like substances at any point in the future. As long as he keeps doing those dishes of course. On that note, what’s your favorite non pesto basil recipe? Let me know in the comments.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Pam July 14, 2008 at 12:42 pm

I love that painting, and the story behind it. Good thing I don’t have a basil plant around…


2 Amy July 14, 2008 at 12:58 pm

What a great story (and painting.) Try orange-basil mojitos — they’re our new favorite drink this summer! Just use fresh-squeezed orange juice (try Valencia oranges if you can get them) in place of the lime juice, and basil in place of the mint leaves.


3 Dayna July 14, 2008 at 1:19 pm

wow amy’s mojito sounds tasty!

love the story on the pot of basil – I will be thinking the next time I walk past my basil plants.

I hope to be eating this in the coming weeks – bagel toasted, with cream cheese, fresh seasonal tomato, topped with basil.


4 Melanie July 14, 2008 at 1:51 pm

This is completely obvious, I know, but my favorite way to use basil is in Caprese salad. Slice up some ripe tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and layer those, tear up some fresh basil and throw it on, sprinkle some sea salt, pour some balsamic vinegar (or just olive oil if you’d rather), and you’re good.

Oh, and bruschetta. Can’t forget that. 🙂


5 Cze-Johnson Carrie July 14, 2008 at 2:25 pm

I like the painting as well. how very cool.

as for recipes.. I JUST had a drink last night that wasn’t too bad.. a bit sweet, though, so perhaps as an ice pop or a shot? anyways, it was called a Green Pear…. bourbon, pear puree, basil and lime juice. refreshing, but again.. a bit sweet for my tastes.

I also like taking veal scallopini, pounding flat, season with salt and pepper, then top with basil, roasted red peppers, and buffalo or smoked mozzarella. roll up, wrap in pancetta, then fry in a little garlic infused olive oil. when roll-ups are cooked… remove, add white wine to oil/juices… reduce, then toss in fresh spinach to cook/coat with sauce.

it’s some work, but the flavors together really rock.


6 Allen July 14, 2008 at 8:32 pm

Oh my — I love basil … but not sure if I’ll ever look at it quite the same way again 🙂 Glad to hear CK’s head is still on his shoulders!

One of my favorite ways to enjoy basil is in panzanella (aka bread salad). Last night I made a summer squash quiche with mushrooms and basil and recently I tried blending basil with a bit of olive oil to slather on ears of sweet corn. I don’t think there’s a bad way to use basil … it goes so well with everything!


7 Donald July 15, 2008 at 6:33 am

Great story and pic.

Basil is one of my favorite herbs. I like it in homemade tomato soup but my all time fav is pizza Margherita. Simple, basic, but oh so tasty.


8 Susie July 15, 2008 at 10:45 am

Oh I love Tapeo. Though the last time I was there after drinking some of that delicious sangria… and by some I mean a couple pitchers (theya re small pitchers, people!)… I stood up and had to sit back down. Immediately. Whew!

I love pizza margherita too. YUM. But I think I know what I want Carrie to make next time I visit. WOwsers…

Also – I got my Pops! book yesterday!!! thanks again!


9 Susie July 15, 2008 at 10:49 am

Oh and that artwork? HAUNTINGLY beautiful. Thank you for sharing.


10 Julia July 15, 2008 at 3:55 pm

Does anyone know the name of the receptacle that you drink the cava out of at Tapeo? I think it’s called a “brouge” or something. Anyway, it’s this hand blown glass carafe, with a very long thin spout. They fill it with cava (spanish sparkling wine) and you have to hold it a certain way an arms length from your face and “try” to get it into your mouth. It is hilarious. I was introduced to this about 5 years ago with 4 other women and it was hilarious, somewhat like a wet t-shirt contest, but it takes practice! We were all hootin’ and hollerin’. It’s fun, you must try.


11 Julia July 15, 2008 at 4:03 pm

Favorite non-pesto basil recipe. Orzo salad with spinach, basil and grape tomatoes courtesy of Rachael Ray. See link.

Note: recipe calls for 2 lemons, zested. Not sure if she means just the zest but I use both the juice AND the zest of 2 whole lemons. Also…make sure you prep/chop the spinach and basil first, because you have to pour the hot orzo over the top to wilt it. If you want to make it greek, you can add feta and kalamata olives…or you can add those small fresh mozzarella balls, sometimes you can find them in tiny pearl shape.

This is the best summer salad I have ever had. It is so delicious and refreshing, can be served warm or cold. Enjoy!


12 Melanie January 20, 2011 at 7:41 pm

My grandfather was a framer in Rochester, New York as well as in Cleveland, Ohio back in the early 1900’s. When I was very young, I used to stare at a painting that he had hung on his living room wall. It was Isabella and the Pot of Basil. The picture was mysterious to me and I may have asked a relative to identify the person in the picture. I never got a clear answer. In 2003, when my mom passed away, in her belongings was the picture. It was a surprise to find the picture but due to the circumstances of her dying and cleaning out her belongings, I put it to the side to investigate further when I had time. When I looked up the information on line I found the actual painting and the poem about Isabella and the Pot of Basil. I don’t know if my grandfather framed the picture as a print for someone or himself or if he got to meet Alexander and got a print from him. The bottom of the picture is a handwritten signature (Alexander) and the title “Pot of Basil” and in very small typewriting is Reinthal L Newman N.Y. I had it reframed even though it is tattered and had two large fold marks. It means a lot to me as I spent a lot of time at my grandmother and grandfather’s house.


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