Basil ~ its one of my all time favorite herbs for many reasons, mainly for it’s bold flavor produced within and as the main ingredient in Pesto! Basil pesto has to be one of those basic preparations that is so versatile in uses from sauces to salads to marinades to making an encrusted dish too! Not only is basil a feature in Italian cuisine, but I also love fresh basil found in Vietnamese dishes such as in their version of spring rolls and also in their vermicelli salads.
Cultivation ~ The photo above and on the left is of a basil plant in our front yard that actually volunteered itself this year, and it is interesting too because I had planted purple and cinnamon basil in this very spot last year. And we get frost and freezes too each winter which makes this more interesting because basil behaves as an annual if there is any chance of temperatures dropping below 32 degrees F for any length of time. So it is no surprise that basil thrives when planted outside in hot temperate climates and will grow back as a perennial if protected from frost.
When the plant starts to flower leaf production begins to decline, however, if the flower buds are picked early before they mature the plant will promote more leafy growth. Also, when the plant goes to seed they can be saved for the next planting season in the early spring. Basil also responds well to propagation by cuttings, where short leafy stems are suspended in water for up to two weeks until and until roots begin to develop. Then the cuttings can be planted into small soil pots until seedlings are large enough to transplant outdoors.
Culinary Uses~ Found both in dried and fresh form, basil is a common herb ingredient used in a host of cooking preparations. Italian seasonings include basil and is popular in a variety of tomato sauce preparations, and can also be found in the French Herbs de Provence spice blend. I also use basil as one of my main herb ingredients in my Cajun Spice Blend. I love basil in tomato sauce and it is great fresh and paired up with tomatoes and cheese in a salad. Tomato and basil pair up so well that a soup has even been made with them, the ever popular Tomato Basil Soup is still the du jour at La Madeline Bakery.
As I mentioned earlier, basil pesto is a great preparation, and one of the most versatile uses for it was in a popular dish on the Columns Hotel menu, Shrimp and Pasta Pesto Alfredo. This dish was such a great flavor combination with the basil pesto folded into the cream sauce with fresh grated Parmesan cheese tossed with fresh sauteed Gulf shrimp and fettuccine pasta. I also love fresh basil in French cuisine influenced Vietnamese dishes such as fresh Spring Rolls with shrimp, carrots, basil, cucumber and rolled into the fresh rice paper. Another Vietnamese featured dish is the Vermicelli Saladsthat include the cold rice noodle tossed with fresh chiffonade of basil, carrots, chopped peanuts, and meat of choice such as shrimp, beef or pork.
If you have ever seen the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” then you know that most words are derived from a Greek word. Well, the word basil comes from the Greek βασιλεύς (basileus), meaning “king”, so it is no wonder that this bold herb still holds it’s place as one of the “king of herbs” by many cookery authors.1