The tender succulence of basil seems to somehow betray the explosively pungent and spicy aromatic nature of this domesticated weed. Whether served in its purest form, hand-torn atop a Caprese salad, as an infused addition to finishing oils, crispy and nutty after baking atop a pizza or as a subtle background note in sauces or soups, basil always reminds me of summer. In its various iterations, this herb plays a starring role in many great dishes and cuisines around the world.
Cooking with Basil
Despite the aromatic liquorice-y pungency of basil, this is a delicate and tender herb. The aromatic qualities of basil come largely from volatile oils which quickly breakdown and disappear when exposed to heat, or evaporate in significant measure when exposed to air during the drying process. Basil is a wonderful complement to tomatoes, onions, garlic, olives and fresh light cheeses – and when paired with other herbs is most commonly used alongside oregano and/or rosemary. Other more pungent herbs have a tendency to dominate and overwhelm basil. One of the great perks of growing your own basil is the access you’ll gain to the oft-overlooked edible flowers, which used raw are beautiful and delicious additions atop salad or pizza.
When cooking with herbs, dried versions are better added earlier as searing and simmering aid in hydration of the dried herbs and extraction of flavours and aromas. However, when cooking with fresh herbs it is better to add them near the end of the cooking process (the last 5-10 minutes) or often sprinkled atop the hot food without any cooking whatsoever. These thoughts are even more applicable with basil given its delicate nature. When it comes to preserving basil, my preference is it freeze, puree with oil and freeze in ice cube trays, or use stalks and stems to create a light broth which can be used fresh or be frozen for future use as these methods seem to preserve fresher, better flavours than drying.
Basil is a fast-growing annual plant that performs best when given access to 6-8 hours of sunlight per day – at peak temperatures between 26 and 32 degrees C. If you’re growing basil at home, 3-4 plants will produce more than enough fresh crop for an average family of four each season – but if you’re planning to preserve some, you might want to consider growing 10-15 additional plants. Basil prefers well-drained soil, regular watering and higher than average organic content in the soil, either through the addition of liquid fertilizer or by the addition of compost or mulch each spring.
[ Recipes ]
Brie Quesadilla w/ Strawberry-Basil Salsa: RECIPE
Wine Match: Gamay from Beaujolais or Ontario
Grilled Polenta w/ Tomato-Basil Sauce: RECIPE
Wine Match: Pinot Noir from Burgundy or Cailfornia
Shrimp, Sweet Corn & Basil Hash: RECIPE
Spaghetti w/ Basil, Lemon & Ricotta: RECIPE
Wine Match: Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux or Loire Valley
Gelato 3 Ways – Tomato, Basil & Ricotta: RECIPE