How do I love thee? Oh, let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height...
Just kidding, we don't need to quote Elizabeth Barrett Browning to prove how much we love basil, but it does seem appropriate for an herb with which the world is so smitten. It is fragrant, refreshing and light, and its beautiful green color adds visual interest as well as flavor to almost any dish. Basil is also known as Sweet Basil, the common name for Ocimum Basilicum. The sweet basil we use here is the most commonly found variety and it is used a lot in Italian cuisine. There are many other types of basil (look into Thai basil, lemon basil and holy basil if you are interested in Asian cuisines.) Today, we will focus on sweet basil, which you can find fresh in almost any grocery store, but is also fairly easy to grow at home in a windowsill, porch container or garden.
To select basil, choose bright, sturdy leaves that do not sag. If you grow your own basil, trim the stem just above a grouping of leaves. This encourages the leaves to grow out, rather than up, resulting in a more robust plant and less risk of flowering. Flowers that do grow need to be picked, as flowering indicates that the plant is entering reproduction mode instead of growth mode, so it will stop producing leaves while the flowers are there. Basil can be stored in a plastic bag with a paper towel for a few days or it can be blanched and frozen. Drying basil is not recommended as dried basil loses most of its flavor, and the flavor that is retained tastes much different.
Wash basil only when you are ready to use it by rinsing gently under cold running water. Tenderly pluck the leaves from the stem and dry between layers of paper towels. If you are not gentle with the leaves, they will bruise. Basil is most commonly used in pesto, caprese salad and as a last-minute additive (any earlier and the flavor will disintegrate) to sauces.