Basil - How to Cook and Grow

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Undoubtedly one of the best loved of all the kitchen herbs, basil has an intense aroma and taste, which is impossible to ignore. No kitchen windowsill should be without a pot of basil, salads, soups, pastas and fish dishes all benefit from a few torn leaves and there is no better accompaniment to a plate of ripe tomatoes still warm from the summer sun. It is the Italians who are most commonly associated with this fragrant herb; the bright green pesto sauce of Genoa is a classic example as is the much abused salad caprese.


How to Grow

Sweet basil is a warm climate plant that is very sensitive to frost; it is easily grown in a well-drained soil with plenty of sun and will grow rapidly if a steady temperature is maintained. Pick the leaves regularly, the small leaves are considered the best and the Italians will insist on the smaller leaves for their pesto. Pinch of the tops of the plants once they reach five to six inches high to encourage bushy growth.

How to Cook

Basil is one herb that must be used fresh; I cannot imagine what freeze-dried basil must taste like. It can be stored in oil but I see little point in preserving basil leaves. For me basil is a taste of the summer and I use it only when I can pick it from a plant, tomato and basil salads in the winter months are just not worth considering. When using basil only pick a few leaves at a time, roughly tear the leaves with your hands, do not chop them with a knife or you will lose all of the colour.

Content and picture Miles Collins