Basil's name comes from the Greek basilikos, which means "royal," and the herb came by the name honestly. Traditionally, kings inaugurated the basil season by cutting the first leaves with a sickle made of gold. But if your house has neither kings nor golden sickles, don't worry- nowadays you can cut your own basil with ordinary kitchen shears.
What is it?
During summer and early fall, it's easy to find basil at the market - just follow your nose. Basil competes with its close relative, mint, for the Most Aromatic Herb title.
To capture the fresh taste that goes with that robust aroma, use only fresh basil. Dried basil is one step up from grass clippings. And no matter what you're cooking, add basil at the end of the cooking time - its flavor can't withstand cooking.
If you have an abundance of basil, the best way to preserve it is to chop it, mix it with a little olive oil, and freeze it in ice-cube trays. Then, in the dead of winter, when a meager basil bunch costs a week's salary, just drop a basil cube in your sauce or soup.
Probably the most common use of basil is in making pesto, the simple, classic pasta topping. To make pesto, put 2 cups basil leaves, 2 ounces of Parmesan cheese, 2 garlic cloves, 1/3 cup pine nuts, and 1/3 cup olive oil in a food processor, and process to a paste. Add salt to taste. That's it.
If that's too easy, or you're just looking for a little variety, try one of these:
- Make an easy salad with cooked shrimp, frozen corn, and chopped basil with a mustard- or mayonnaise-based dressing.
- Top pasta with a simple sauce of sautéed garlic, canned crushed tomatoes, cracked pepper, and shredded basil.
- For a different take on basil and pasta, make a light cream sauce with shallots, prosciutto, and basil.
- Basil adds a fresh taste to soup of all kinds - try it in tomato, minestrone, or chowder.
- Top mushroom risotto with chopped basil and a little lemon juice. Roast corn kernels with a few pine nuts and some balsamic vinegar; mix in chopped basil after roasting.
- Add basil and roasted garlic to mashed potatoes.