Probably one of my favourite fresh herbs, along with Rosemary, is Basil (Ocimum Basilicum in Latin). The smell, the colour, the taste, everything about it is just heavenly and it is the true King of Herbs! I use Basil in all sorts of dishes, I rip it up and put it in pasta sauces, sprinkle it on pasta dishes at the end of cooking, put whole leaves atop pizza, grind it up with some pine nuts to make pesto… it’s just so versatile, and so easy to grow! All you need is a sunny garden, greenhouse or window sill and you are away.
I usually buy my Basil plants ready grown in a supermarket or garden centre, so I can use them straight away and still allow the plant to grow more leaves afterwards, you can grow it from seed of course, but this isn’t a gardening site, it’s a cookery site so I’m not going to go there! Typically, the kind of Basil you find find in supermarkets will be Sweet Basil, the type most commonly used in Italian cooking, but there are other types too, Thai, Lemon and Holy Basil, which are used in Asian cooking. And while you can buy ready picked basil leaves in packets, it’s definately a better option to spend 20-50p more on a whole plant. Look for a plant that is bushy and is a beautiful vivid green colour and you can’t go wrong.
When you get it home, pop it into a flower pot and pop it in a sunny spot on a window still such as in the bathroom or more suitably, the kitchen. Make sure you turn the plant every other day so the leaves down grow away from you, and keep it watered, it’s important to keep the plant from wilting so use a clean spray container and give the leaves a spritz once a day when you are watering the soil.
When it comes to using the actual Basil in a recipe, more often than not you will only need the leaves, take a pair of sharp scissors and cut in the middle of the stems of those which are yielding the largest leaves. This give the stem a chance to grow back and supply you with even more lovely leaves. You can dry it if you wish, take a few stems and after switching off the oven of an evening after dinner, just pop the stems inside as it is cooling, on a piece of tin foil, they will dry out as the oven cools down and by morning you will have some lovely fresh dried herbs for cooking with, just store them in an airtight jar. Be warned though, Basil is prone to losing a lot of it’s flavour when it is dried and also when it is cooked, hence adding it towards the end of cooking.
You can tear it, or chop it, and either way you will immediately notice the pungent odour, it’s a lovely smell and one that you will find wafting around my kitchen on many a warm day!
So that’s Basil, a wonderful addition to any kitchen window sill…