Spring has finally arrived in SE Texas. With it comes longer warmer days and schizophrenic weather… and basil. This year I’ve planted Thai basil and Genovese basil. It’s coming up beautifully. I’ve included a picture of both in their beginning stages. It’s one of the most rewarding herbs to grow, easy and prolific. A member of the mint family, basil is versatile. It can be grown in the garden or inside on a sunny window sill. It’s routinely used in Italian, India and Asian cuisine. Simple dishes like Caprese salad are such a delight during summer months with fresh basil. Infusing olive oil with basil is a good way to use it. Add it either chopped or pureed to salad dressings
There are so many types of basil. Genovese basil is the traditional basil used for pesto and other Italian dishes. Because its flavor is stronger and more aromatic its more suitable than Sweet basil found in the grocery store.
Thai basil used as an indispensable garnish in Pho (pronounced “fuh”). When used fresh, it has a sweet but spicy licorice flavor that holds up to the richness of the soup. Some varieties produce dark purple flowers at the end of the season and make quite a striking landscape plant as well.
Speaking of purple, Purple basil has gorgeous purple foliage and adds color to your dishes. It’s a fun way to liven up a cocktail. Try in in a mojito. While it could be used for pesto, it tends to yield a pesto with an unappetizing color although it tastes just fine (personal experience).
To give your fish a twist, use Lemon basil. Lime basil along with Lemon basil is wonderful for teas, sauces and deserts.
A fantastic looking basil that I have not experimented with yet is Lettuce Leaf basil. The leaves are large like lettuce leaves. I think I’d like to try pesto with them, although it looks to be a perfect size for a sandwich.
If you do grow your own basil and want to dry it, the best way is to cut the stems and hang it upside down in a cool, dry, dimly lit place with good air circulation. You could use a dehydrator set on the lowest temperature setting, but the hanging method preserves more of the essential oils. Dried herbs are stronger than fresh herbs by volume. The general rule is to use twice as much fresh as dried. This is true for basil. Dried herbs are best used during cooking so that they have time to impart their flavor.
Another method of preservation is to turn it into pesto. You can use it alone to make pesto or try using other herbs like parsley and oregano to get a more complex pesto. If you only add half of the olive oil when you make it, you can freeze the pesto in meal size portions and use them all winter. Just defrost and add a bit more olive oil and you are ready to enjoy summer all over again.
Fresh herbs are best used at the end of cooking. Use ribbons of basil over top of some pasta or pizza. Their fresh green color and flavor really elevates a humble dish.
To add freshness to your cooking, basil is effective. Dried basil is convenient, while fresh basil is absolutely worth the trouble of growing.