Friday, June 12, 2009


Fresh basil leaves should be layered in damp paper towels inside a plastic bag and refrigerated up to 4 days. For basil with stalks attached, place in a glass of water and cover with a plastic bag secured to the glass. Store in the refrigerator, changing water daily, and use within a week. Do not wash the leaves until you are ready to use them. Fresh basil is a perfect candidate for freezing, either whole or chopped. Blanch whole leaves for two seconds, plunge into ice water, pat dry and place in airtight bags in the freezer. The flavor will be stronger if you do not thaw before using. Another option is to put whole or chopped fresh leaves in an ice cube tray and cover with water or broth before freezing. Once frozen, pop the cubes out into an airtight bag. Use the cubes in soups, stews or sauces. Basil and oil paste may also be frozen. Frozen basil should be used within 4 months. Fresh basil may also be dry-preserved. Gently wash the leaves, blot with paper towels, and let them dry completely. Layer coarse salt and basil leaves, ending with a layer of salt, in an airtight container. Store in a cool, dark place up to 6 months.

Basil is the ultimate complement to tomatoes, and also pairs beautifully with onions, garlic, and olives.

• Basil stimulates the appetite and helps curb flatulence, perhaps another reason why it works so well with garlic. Basil tea is said to help with dysentery, nausea, and stomach distress due to gas.

• The leaves are the prime part of the plant. Small stems are okay, but thicker stems and stalks should be discarded because they tend to be bitter. The stems and large veins also contain compounds that will cause pesto to turn brown and dark.

• Although pinching back the flowers will encourage more leaf growth, the creamy-white flowers are edible.

• Most other herbs tend to overpower basil's flavor and aroma, but
oregano is one that is most often used in conjunction with basil. Other good combinations include summer savory, rosemary, and sage.

• For the most intense flavor, basil should be added at the end of the cooking process. Prolonged heat will cause basil's volatile oils to dissipate.

• Ground with garlic and olive oil into a paste, basil is a prime ingredient in pistou, a Mediterranian specialty.

• In Italy, pine nuts and sometimes grated hard cheese are added to the paste to become
pesto. Both pistou and pesto come from verb roots meaning to to pulverize, as with a pestle. Younger leaves are preferable for pesto. Pesto may easily be frozen, but if you plan on freezing it, leave out the cheese.

• Pesto is most often served with pasta. Enzymatic reactions between basil and flour may cause an unappetizing brown color to the pasta. When serving pesto with pasta, add a squeeze of lemon juice to the pasta cooking water to help keep the pasta from turning dark.

• Basil is a perfect candidate as a flavor for
infused oil, but does not work as well with vinegar for long-term. Basil is one of the flavoring ingredients for the liqueur, Chartreuse.

• You will never get full flavor when using dried basil, so keep this in mind when substituting dried for fresh. However, if you find yourself in dire need and without fresh basil, use 1/3 the amount of dried basil substituted for fresh. One tablespoon of fresh chopped basil equals 1 teaspoon dried.

• When substituting fresh basil for dried, triple the amount.

• One-half ounce of fresh basil leaves equals 1 cup chopped fresh basil.

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