Basil is an annual plant that is a member of the mint family. It was referred to by ancient Greeks as the “royal herb”. Fresh basil has a pungent flavor that can be described as a cross between licorice and cloves. Basil is used frequently in Mediterranean and Italian cooking. However, it is becoming more and more popular in American cuisine. Most varieties of basil have green leaves. Basil is a summer herb, but can be grown successfully indoors during the winter in a sunny window.
When purchasing basil, look for evenly colored leaves with no sign of wilting. The best way to store basil is to wrap it in barely damp paper towels, store in a plastic bag and then refrigerate. The basil will keep for about 4 days. There are a variety of ways to use basil and it can be used to flavor meats, fish, soups, vegetables and pasta dishes. Some of the most common ways to use basil is in a pesto sauce or in tomato based sauces and dishes.
Pesto is a versatile sauce to have on hand. It can be frozen and pulled out of the freezer and tossed with fresh pasta for a quick meal. If you are going to freeze pesto, add the cheese after you have thawed the pesto. Pesto sauce is simple to make and a great way to use the basil that you plant this summer. Below is a simple recipe:
Makes 1 cup
2 cups fresh basil leaves
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 medium sized garlic cloves – minced
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts (rough chop walnuts before processing)
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In a food processor, combine basil with pine nuts or walnuts. Pulse a few times. Add the garlic, pulse a few more times. Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop and scrap down the sides of the processor bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse until blended. Add a pinch of salt and grated black pepper to taste.
Once you’ve mastered the basic pesto sauce, you can use it as the foundation for other great sauces, like the cream basil sauce in my Chicken With Linguine in Basil Cream Sauce recipe.