Basil has been around for a long time. It can be an intrusive annual plant, which makes sense since it belongs to the quick-spreading mint family. It is native to India and was popular in ancient Greece, where it was known as the Herb of Kings. It is considered an Italian herb and is often pared with the tomato.
Basil has a sweet, minty, mildly peppery taste and comes in several varieties, including lemon, licorice and cinnamon. A little bit goes a long way. Use an eighth of a teaspoon of dried basil for every 2 servings. Fresh leaves are more flavorful, especial if you tear them first. As with most herbs, it is best to add basil at the end of cooking, just before serving it in a hot dish.Basil can be used in a number of ways. It wakes up scrambled eggs in the morning. I combine it with summer savory over a mixture of broccoli and edamame (soybeans). It is excellent with tomatoes and thus, very good in spaghetti, lasagna and other Italian dishes. Try it with peaches and berries or sprinkle it in a hearty vegetable soup.
It pairs very well with other Italian spices and herbs, most notably garlic, oregano, parsley, rosemary and thyme. It is also good with cilantro, fennel, mint, saffron and sage. Don’t be afraid to add a few leaves to a summer salad of mixed greens. You can add a couple leaves of each flavored variety of basil for a greater taste sensation.
Basil has a reputation as an insect repellent, especially mosquitoes and flies. It also keeps bugs from cabbage and tomato plants. Just the fragrance alone should be enough reason to include it in every garden. The dried stems of the basil plant may also be used in a smoker.
Perhaps the favorite use of basil is to make pesto. It is easy to do. Just chop up 3 garlic cloves with a ¼ cup of walnuts or pinenuts and ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil in a food processor. Add 2 firmly-packed cups of washed, fresh basil leaves and a tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice. The latter keeps the recette pesto from turning brown. It should look finely ground like a green sauce. You can freeze this, especially if you have several plants in the garden. When you do serve it add ¼ to ½ cup of Parmesan or Romano grated cheese.
Spread it on bread, add it to eggs or spice up a poultry or fish dish. Add a dollop to your spaghetti sauce. (Basil can turn your pasta brown, so add a little vinegar to the boiling pasta water.) You’ll be glad you didn’t let those fragrant plants go to waste in the garden, and you’ll appreciate the flavor and your efforts all through the winter months.
Copyright 2012 by Linda K Murdock. Linda Murdock is the best-selling author of A Busy Cook’s Guide to Spices, How to Introduce New Flavors to Everyday Meals. Unlike most spice books, you can turn to a food, whether meat, vegetable or starch, and find a list of spices that go well with that food. Recipes are included.