The basil plant grows to approximately 4 feet or 125 cm in height. Basil has large white flowers and lush broad dark green leaves. It is related to Mint and the leaves are of a similar shape and colour.
The English name Basil, comes from the old Greek word basilikohn which means King or Royal. Basil is regarded by many to be the king of all herbs. Basil’s Latin name is Ocimum basilicum.
The special flavour that Basil adds
Basil has a warm, aromatic flavor which smells of cloves with just a hint of spicey aniseed though not overpowering. It should be added when cooking is almost complete as it very quickly loses it’s wonderful aroma.
Dried basil works well but use fresh Basil leaves if they are available. You could grow your own basil!
Basil is an international herb
Basil is one of the most popular herbs used in cooking today and is a extremely versatile herb with many varieties. Basil is used in many different cuisines.
In the Western world, sweet basil is generally used and is predominant in Italian and other Mediterranean cuisines. Asian cuisines such as Thai and Vietnamese cuisines tend to favour other varieties of basil like Holy, Lemon and Thai. These are also used in the West but generally to a lesser extent that sweet Basil.
Using Basil in cookery
Basil complements tomatoes perfectly when served chopped but raw in salads such as the classic Italian Caprese. Basil is used extensively in Greek salads in much the same way. Equally Basil is at home when added to tomato sauces for pasta or other hot dishes.
Basil also has a part to play when finishing meat and particularly roasts that are going to be carved. Basil sprinkled on top of a meat joint gives it a mouth watering aromatic smell.
Basil the herb can be used with fish but in moderation. The generally delicate flavours of fish can be easily overpowered so though basil can enhance a fish dish it needs to used sparingly
If you have a quantity of Basil you want to store, there are three ways I’m aware of in addition to storing Basil in a Pesto sause. There are more on doubt.
Chop the Basil into small pieces and mix with Olive oil to a Pesto consistency. This can be stored in either a fridge or a freezer for longer term storage.
Chop the Basil as in the first method and freeze it in ice cubes.
Dry the Basil in bags or in an oven at low heat. When dry, store in airtight jars. Though this method works well, the Basil does loose a lot of its potency.
When storing Basil, I usually divide it into two and store half in Olive oil and the rest in ice cubes. I then have Basil in two forms can be used in a wide variety of dishes and straight from the storage.
Grow your own Basil
Fresh Basil is not always available so why not consider growing your own? You then have the guarantee that the Basil you are using is really fresh with the best possible flavour.
Fortunately Basil is relatively easy to grow. It needs a warm sunny spot the sheltered the better. I grow Basil in pots so I can move it about dependant on the time of year. One of the things you have to do with the English climate!
Here are a few tips if your going to have a go at growing your own Basil.
As the plant grows, pinch out the top leaves to encourage a more bushy growth. Harvest the Basil leaves regularly to encourage even more growth.
At the first sign of really cold weather, bring a pot indoors because the Basil plant is quite fragile and will die off. You can also plant more seeds to ensure an all year around supply of Basil. I always have some growing on a window sill.
Basil is an essential in you culinary toolbox