Called the “royal herb” by the ancient Greeks, this annual is a member of the mint family. Fresh basil has a pungent flavour that some describe as a cross between liquorice and cloves. It’s a key herb in Mediterranean cooking, essential to the delicious Italian pesto, and is becoming more and more popular in the kitchen.
Most varieties of basil have green leaves, but one – opal basil – is a beautiful purple colour. Lemon basil and cinnamon basil have green leaves, their perfume fragrance and flavour match their respective names.
Fresh basil is rich in Vitamin A and is a good source of Vitamin C, riboflavin, calcium and iron. If used as an ingredient in a salad it can make a contribution to the nutrient content of the diet
Preparing and Using
Choose evenly coloured leaves with no sign of wilting. Refrigerate basil, wrapped in barely damp paper towels and then in a plastic bag, for up to four days. Or store a bunch of basil, stems down, in a glass of water with a plastic bag over the leaves. Refrigerate in this manner for up to a week, changing the water every two days. To preserve fresh basil, wash and dry the leaves and place layers of leaves, then coarse salt, in a container that can be tightly sealed. Alternatively, finely chop the cleaned basil and combine it with a small amount of olive oil. Freeze in tiny portions to flavour sauces and salad dressings. The leaves may be puréed with a bit of water or stock and frozen in ice cube trays. Basil is excellent for flavouring vinegars and oils.
It is an essential herb in the preparation ofMediterranean food. Pair with ripe tomatoes,as in the classic Caprese salad. Pesto, the Ligurian basil sauce that is synonymous with summer, can also be frozen (before adding the cheese). Always tear the leaves for salads to avoid bruising, and add at the last minute,since vinegar dressings can affect the flavour of the herb. Mash into soft butter, alone or mixed with other herbs. Or, using a very sharp knife to minimise bruising, cut in a chiffonade to add to finished soups, sauces, or egg dishes.