Basil

The herb that inspires the chef to creative cuisine!  Basil has a sweet strong spicy flavour that resembles cloves and will improve almost all salads and savoury dishes.  There are many varieties of basil with differing leaves and intensity of flavour.  Basil goes particularly well with tomatoes and is the key ingredient of pesto.  It is best used either raw or added at the end of cooking.

Growing: Basil is an annual.  Plant in full sun in a well-drained soil.  Water regularly.  Frequent picking of leaves ensures a continuous supply and keeps the plants bushy.  Basil can also be grown indoors in pots.  Remove flower stems to prolong the life of the plant.  Basil is susceptible to snails.  Great companion plant for tomatoes, cucumbers and corn.

Storage: Refrigerate basil in plastic bags in the crisper.  Make sure leaves aren’t squashed.  Alternatively, if the herbs are still growing with the roots attached, place the roots in a jar of water and do not refrigerate.  Mature plants can be cut and dried for winter use, pick the leaves as flowers begin to open.  If freezing the leaves, coat them with olive oil first.  Leaves can also be stored in salt.  Fresh basil leaves can also be stored in olive oil, yielding spicy cooking oil. 

General Use: Remove any coarse or wilted leaves.  Soaking the leaves in warm water for 3-4 minutes followed by refrigeration for 15-20 minutes can refresh the leaves if necessary.  Tear the leaves, rather than chop them, and bruise them slightly before adding to a recipe.  Add basil to cooked dishes towards the end of cooking to capture the full flavour.

Basil has a special affinity for tomatoes and tomato-flavoured dishes, and it is an essential ingredient to make a truly wonderful pesto sauce.  You can also add basil to beans, cheeses, chicken, eggs, fish, marinades, marrows, mushrooms, pasta, pasta sauces and salads.  It also makes a great herb vinegar and herb butter.

Basil Pesto: Put ½ cup fresh chopped basil in a blender.  Pour in about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and blend basil into a paste.  Gradually add 70g pine nuts, 20g Brazil nuts, 65g Parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon crushed garlic, ½ teaspoon chili powder, and 200ml olive oil.  Continue to blend until smooth.