I always keep one or two basil plants in my garden, so I start enjoying basil with the aroma. If you’re ever cut a sprig of fresh basil from your very own plant you know what I’m talking about. A crisp, fresh green smell like no other herb. Although there are more than 60 basil varieties only a few are grown and used commercially because their unique taste, green color and often red or purple tips limits the varieties we use in cooking. That does not mean that other varieties are not good, they are just not as commercially popular. I’ve tried at least 20 varieties since it’s so easy to grow and it does make an attractive potted plant.
The first step when making a good meal is selecting the best and freshest ingredients. When choosing basil look for bright green color with blemish free leaves. Although dried basil is available, as are many other herbs, nothing equals the fresh. Remember that you need almost twice as much of any fresh herb as of a dry herb. Since basil is high in carotenoids and Vitamin C, be sure to source non-irradiated plants; another reason to grow your own. Like all fresh herbs and leafy vegetables, basil stores well in the refrigerator wrapped in a damp towel to keep it from wilting and drying after it is cut. It also freezes well without flavor or nutrient loss although it will not make a good garnish. Whether you buy dry basil or dry your own, store it in an air tight container in a cool place and don’t expose to light. The worse place to store basil or any herbs for that matter is right above your range. They will be too hot during cooking and the steam rising from boiling pots will cause unwanted dampness. Most herbs are best used towards the end of the cooking process and basil is no different. Its oils are volatile and easily lost if cooked too long decreasing the flavor and nutrients.
Everyone has a favorite way of using basil. What is yours? Mine is in Pesto sauce, and I am still using the 1959 Sunset Magazine recipe that I cut and saved when I found it in a huge stash of magazines given to me by a friend. This one is easy, rich, flavorful, and somewhat high in calories because of the quantity of oil, but it is also forgiving. For fewer calories use 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon oil. This reduces calories by 75% and will taste just as good.
Mix basil leaves in a mortar with garlic, Parmesan Romano cheese, pine nuts, parsley, and salt. Pound until smooth. With electric mixer slowly add olive oil and mix until smooth & emulsified. If you’re in a hurry dump ingredients in a food processor or blender & pulse until the right consistency.
Nutrition Information for 1 tablespoon
Protein 3.1 gm
Fat 6.5 gm
Carbohydrate 2.3 gm
Fiber 0.6 gm
Sodium 278 mg
Cholesterol 5.2 mg