Basil is a highly fragrant plant whose leaves are used as a seasoning herb for many different types of foods. Basil has become one of the most recognizable herbs ever since pesto, the mixture of basil, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese, has become popular.
Basil has round leaves that are oftentimes pointed. They are green in color, although some varieties feature hints of red or purple. Basil looks a little like peppermint, which is not surprising since they belong to the same plant family.
There are more than 60 varieties of basil, all of which differ somewhat in appearance and taste. While the taste of sweet basil is bright and pungent, other varieties also offer unique tastes: lemon basil, anise basil and cinnamon basil all have flavors that subtly reflect their name. The scientific name for basil is Ocimum basilicum
Along with basils' wonderful fragrances and flavors, some varieties are also used as attractive ornamentals in the summer landscape and others add interest to cut flower arrangements.
Basil is native to India and Asia, but has a long history of legend and use worldwide. In Tudor England, little pots of basil were often given as graceful compliments by farmers' wives to visitors. In present-day Italy, basil is a symbol of love, but it represented hatred in ancient Greece.
The ancient Greeks depicted poverty as a ragged woman with basil at her side. Both the early Greeks and Romans thought the plant would only grow if the gardener shouted and cursed while sowing the seeds. Some of you may already be proficient at that technique with other plantings.
Storage and Use:
Fresh garden tomatoes sliced and sprinkled with chopped basil, vinegar and oil are delicious. Basil mixes well with various egg and cheese dishes as well as fruit jams. In general, add fresh basil at the last moment, as cooking destroys the flavor quickly. When adding dried basil to a recipe that calls for fresh, substitute 1/3 the amount called for in the recipe.
Fresh basil should be stored in the refrigerator wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel. It may also be frozen, either whole or chopped, in airtight containers. Alternatively, you can freeze the basil in ice cube trays covered with either water or stock that can be added when preparing soups or stews. Dried basil should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for about six months.
Don't forget the flowers. Basil flowers are edible and are a nice complement in salads or used to decorate the dessert or dinner plate.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas:
- Combine fresh chopped basil with garlic and olive oil to make a dairy-free variety of pesto that can top a variety of dishes including pasta, salmon and whole wheat brushetta.
- Enjoy a taste of Italy by layering fresh basil leaves over tomato slices and mozzarella cheese to create this traditional colorful and delicious salad.
- Adding basil to healthy stir-fries, especially those that include eggplant, cabbage, chili peppers, tofu and cashew nuts will give them a Thai flair.
- Purée basil, olive oil and onions in a food processor or blender and add to tomato soups.
- Enjoy a warm cup of invigorating basil tea by infusing chopped basil leaves in boiling water for eight minutes.
Fresh Lime-Basil Sorbet
- 1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (8 to 10 limes)
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup simple sugar syrup (1 cup sugar plus 1 cup water, boiled then cooled)
- 12 whole basil leaves
- 1 egg white (optional)
Combine all ingredients, except egg white, into a freezer-friendly container and freeze 6 to 8 hours or overnight.
Remove from freezer and allow to soften a little. Put chunks of frozen mixture into a food processor and process until all crystals have disappeared and mixture is smooth. Re-pack into container and keep frozen until needed. This will keep for up to 2 months. If you prefer a lighter, less icy sorbet, add 1 egg white during processing. Yields 4 servings. (Recipe from Herbal Gardens' website)
Salami, Oven-Roasted Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil Omelette
- 6 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 oz. thinly sliced salami, cut into ¼" strips
- 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 6 eggs
- 1 oz. fresh mozzarella, torn into ½" pieces
- 6 basil leaves, thinly sliced
1. Heat oven to 375°. Mix tomatoes, ¼ cup oil, salt, and pepper on a rimmed baking sheet; bake, stirring occasionally, until slightly dry and caramelized, 12-15 minutes. Set tomatoes aside to cool.
2. Heat remaining oil and salami in a 12" nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer salami to paper towels to drain. Wipe out skillet and add butter; return skillet to medium heat. Whisk eggs, salt, and pepper in a bowl and add to skillet; cook, stirring occasionally, until large curds form, 3-4 minutes, then gently stir until eggs are almost set. Using a rubber spatula, pat eggs into an even layer. Add tomatoes, salami, cheese, and half the basil. Slide half the omelette onto a plate and using spatula, fold remaining omelet over the filling; garnish with remaining basil.
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil
- Coarse salt and ground pepper
To store, refrigerate, wrapped in waxed paper, up to 1 week.
In a small bowl, combine butter and fresh basil; season generously with coarse salt and ground pepper. Stir until combined.
Transfer to an 11-by-10-inch piece of parchment or waxed paper. Roll into a cylinder, about 6 inches long and 2 inches in diameter; twist ends to seal. Refrigerate until very firm, about 2 hours. To serve, unwrap and slice crosswise.
Spaghetti with Green Beans, Pancetta and Basil
Pancetta (Italian cured bacon) adds salty flavor to this pasta dish; its richness is balanced by crisp-tender green beans and aromatic basil.
- 8 ounces spaghetti
- 4 ounces pancetta, diced, or 4 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 3/4 pound green beans (stem ends removed), halved crosswise
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta water; drain pasta, and return to pot.
Meanwhile, cook pancetta in a large skillet over medium until browned and crisp, 10 to 12 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet (reserve skillet).
Add green beans to skillet; season with salt and pepper. Cover, and cook until beans are crisp-tender, 5 to 7 minutes; transfer to pot with pasta. Add pancetta, cup Parmesan, and enough reserved pasta water to create a thin sauce that coats pasta. Top with basil and remaining cup Parmesan; serve immediately.