(POSTED: July 29, 2006)
The Greek name for basil means "king", which shows how highly it has been regarded throughout the ages. Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a sun-loving annual with highly aromatic leaves that has a pleasant spicy odor and taste somewhat like anise or cloves. Both the leaves and their essential oils are used as flavoring agents.
There are many different types of sweet basil – large and
dwarf forms, with green, purple, or variegated leaves.
Many of these widely grown plants are ornamental, as well as edible. Italian cooks love this easy-to-grow herb and use it generously in their sauces. In Italy this plant is a symbol of love; a sprig of it presented to your lover bespeaks fidelity. When a woman puts a pot of basil on the balcony outside her room, it means that she is ready to receive her suitor.
There is nothing like the smell of basil - one of the most recognized fragrances of summer. Basil has become one of the most popular herbs in the garden today. It is my favorite herb, especially in the summer and autumn when vine-ripen tomatoes are available. There are many types of basil, which vary in size, color, and flavor. All can be used for culinary purposes.
If you're not lucky enough to grow your own basil, it can be found in your supermarket. Look for evenly colored, bright green leaves with no sign of wilting or dark spots.
Storing Fresh Basil:
Store fresh basil leaves in the refrigerator, wrapped in barely damp paper towels and then in a plastic bag, for up to four days.
Store a bunch of basil, stems down, in a glass of water with a plastic bag over the leaves. Secure plastic bag to the glass with a rubber band. Refrigerate for up to a week, changing water every other day.
Preserving Fresh Basil:
To freeze, puree basil leaves with a little water and put into ice-cube trays. When frozen, the cubes can be stored in the freezer in plastic bag.
To freeze, rinse herbs and let drain until dry. Lay in a single layer on baking sheets, keeping pieces slightly apart. Freeze on baking sheets just until herbs are rigid, about one hour. Place frozen herbs into small freezer plastic bags, press out air, seal, and return to freezer. To use, take out of the bag what you need, reseal, and immediately return to the freezer. Frozen herbs will retain flavor up to one year.
Mozzarella, Tomato and Basil Plate
1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4" thick slices
3 to 4 medium fresh tomatoes, cut into 1/4" thick slices
1 bunch of fresh basil leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons capers rinsed and drained
In a circular design around the side of a serving plate, take a slice of mozzarella cheese, overlay a slice of tomato, and then overlay a leaf of fresh basil. Keep doing this around until the plate is filled. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sprinkle capers over the top. Serve with Italian bread.
Source: Linda Stradley - What's Cooking America.