One of the most populary culinary herbs is sweet basil. The best flavor of purple basil comes from the Red Rubin variety. Especially good in Thai dishes is the Thai Basil whose leaves have a spicy aniseed aroma with hints of mint and citrus. All can be found at most seed and plant nurseries. If you are unfamiliar with the nuances of different basils, your best bet is to start with the sweet basil (most often used in Pesto). Basil is available in fresh leaves and in dried leaves, which are also sometimes called rubbed. Fresh leaves may be stored in a cool place or in the refrigerator for a very short time.
Also indispensable for many Mediterranean dishes, the fresh leaf has a sweet, clovelike spiciness and is excellent with tomato dishes. Its flavor is strong enough to stand up to the pungency of garlic, so it is often paired together like in Pesto.
If you have an herb garden with an excess of basil, you can dry the leaves and store in a cool dry, dark place (dried basil will retain itsr flavor for six months). Add dried herbs at the beginning and during cooking.
Add fresh herbs only at the end of cooking or upon serving. Many species of the basil herb exist, but the most popular is sweet basil. Basil is considered one of the most important and highly used herbs in the culinary world and is popular in the cooking of many types of cuisine.
The strong, clove like flavor is essential to many Italian recipes and it is paired most often with tomatoes. Basil is primarily used in sauces, pizzas, salads and pasta dishes. It is also the main ingredient used in pesto.
Cultivation of Basil
Site: Basil needs a sunny location which receives at least 6-8 hours of bright light per day and moist but well drained soil conditions. Protect from heavy wind, frost and scorching. It does not do well with blaring midday sun.
Propagation: Sow seeds thinly in a warm location in pots or directly in the soil after danger of frost has passed. Sow evenly, covering with 1/4" of soil and keep moist and free of weeds. Germination will occur within 5 - 8 days. Once seedlings have developed, they can be thinned or transplanted to stand 6" - 12" apart. Seeds can also be sown indoors 6 - 8 weeks before planting outside. Avoid over watering seedlings.
Growing: Depending on the amount of regular rainfall, water deeply once every 7 - 10 days to insure the roots are receiving adequate moisture. Always watering at midday not in the evening. In hot weather, syringe leaves. Basil grows well potted in containers. Plants grown in containers will dry out faster than those in garden beds and therefore will have to be watered more frequently. Choose container with holes in the bottom for proper drainage. Fertilize sparingly. Basil will not survive harsh winters. At the end of the growing season, you may pot the plant and bring it inside for the winter. Place in a place with plenty of bright sunlight.
Harvesting: Pick or snip leaves when young and as they are needed. If whole stem sections are being harvested, cut just above a pair of leaves. Snipping the leaves actually encourages new growth and can be seen in less than a week. For culinary uses, it is important to prune or trim the plant periodically through the growing season or it will not retain productive growth. If the plant flowers and form seeds, it will become woody and yield will be reduced.
Culinary Uses: Basil's warm spicy essence is revered by cooks from the Orient to the Mediterranean. Sliced tomatoes are divine when topped with a sprinkle of olive oil and a basil chiffonade. Basil's pungent flavor complements garlic well. Used in pesto and tomato based Italian sauces, blended vinegar as well as spicy Thai cuisine.