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.
Traditional Basil Pesto
- 4 cups fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup (about 5 oz.) pine nuts
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Place basil, pine nuts and garlic in food processor bowl.
- Process until almost a puree.
- Add oil, Parmesan cheese and salt. Process until mixture is well blended.
- Toss with hot pasta, spread on grilled chicken or use as a sandwich spread.
Test Kitchen Tip Divide Traditional Basil Pesto Sauce between two ice cube trays; cover with plastic wrap and freeze. When the pesto sauce is frozen solid, pop the pesto cubes out and place in a resealable plastic freezer bag. Remove pesto cubes from bag, as needed. For an individual serving, defrost one pesto cube and toss with hot cooked pasta or spread on your favorite sandwich or wrap.
Pasta with Pesto Sauce
- 1 package (12 oz.) pasta
- Traditional Basil Pesto (recipe above)
- Cook pasta following package directions; drain.
- Toss with Traditional Basil Pesto.
Grilled Vegetables and Pesto Wraps
Grilled Vegetables and Pesto Wraps
- Grilled Vegetables with Balsamic Marinade
- Traditional Basil Pesto
- 8 (10-inch) flour tortillas
- Prepare and grill vegetables as directed for Grilled Vegetables with Balsamic Marinade.
- Prepare pesto as directed using Traditional Basil Pesto.
- Spread tortillas with about 2 Tablespoons pesto.
- Arrange vegetables in center of tortillas. Fold up bottom of tortilla and roll up sides.
Test Kitchen Tip: For easy carrying at a picnic, serve the wraps in small buckets or cups with chips.
Want more pesto dishes? We thought so.