Cooking With Basil Plants

A popular herb and a favorite seasoning for Italian and French cuisine, basil enhances the flavors of meat, poultry, pastas, salads and soups.

Originally from India, basil is now grown and in many regions of the world -- in ornamental landscapes, kitchen gardens, and window boxes. One of the most popular herbs and a favorite seasoning for Italian and French cuisine, basil enhances the flavors of meat, poultry, salads and soups. Basil goes extremely well with pasta, rice, tomato, zucchini, and eggplant. The famous pesto pasta sauce highlights the flavor of crushed fresh basil in a mixture of garlic, oil, pine nuts, and cheeses.

Basil is available in many different varieties. Aside from sweet basil, there is lemon basil with a citrus fragrance; purple and opal basil have a light flavor; Thai and Asian basil give off an anise fragrance; and dwarf or pot basil have small leaves that are a favorite for their fine taste and pleasant aroma.

One of the easiest herbs to grow, basil in a container pot can be an attractive addition to your kitchen's windowsill. The herb will help purify the air, and give a hint of aroma to your room while keeping away flies and mosquitoes that dislike its scent. Nip the basil shoots every now and then to keep the stems from growing too tall. If you let them flower, you can harvest the seeds to add to a cup of nonsparkling mineral water for a refreshing basil-flavored drink.

Crushing fresh basil leaves is regarded as the best way to season dishes with this herb. You can store fresh leaves in plastic bags inside the refrigerator, and also freeze crushed or pureed leaves in ice cubes that you can drop into your soups and dishes as flavoring.

Dry or frozen basil leaves are an alternative, though not as exquisite as fresh ones. Air-dry basil stems by hanging them upside down in a dry and well-ventilated room. Store dried basil in a dark, sealed container, at room temperature to preserve its flavor. Be sure to use them within a year's time.

You can also preserve basil by keeping them in a jar with olive oil. The leaves and oil can be added to your favorite dishes as desired.

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