Cooking with herbs – basil
Welcome to the LWTM – ‘Cooking with herbs’ blog series
In this blog series you will find historical information and recipes about the most commonly used kitchen herbs. They do not only add flavour, but they also make a positive impact on our health and well-being. To find out more about other kitchen herbs, please type ‘cooking with herbs’ into the search box.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
History: Basil originates from India, where it was cultivated for cooking over 5000 years ago. Nowadays there are over 60 different types of basil. The word ‘basileus’ means ‘king’ and Basil is often referred to as ‘king of all herbs’. Its first ceremonial use was connected with the ancient festival ‘ the feast of the cross’, that commemorates the finding of the True Cross by St. Helena, the mother of the emperor St. Constantine.
How to grow and use it: Basil is one of those herbs that grows easily on every window sill, providing it is not all day in direct sunlight. The rounded leaves have a waxy texture and are very aromatic. But should always used fresh as its taste is lost once it is cooked. The leaves are very delicate, so it is best to cut them into a salad, etc., with kitchen scissors.
TIP: Did you know that Basil grown on your window sill does not only look good, but it will also ward off flying insects as they don’t like its aromatic smell.
Once you have been bitten by an insect, an old remedy is to rub a fresh basil leave straight onto the bit, it will help with the itching sensation and sometimes can even help with the swelling.
Ingredients: a handful of basil leaves, 250ml virgin olive oil
It could not be simpler. Put the leaves into a dark glass bottle and add the olive oil. Leave overnight and use on salads or fresh tomatoes
Use as tea for bloating and problem with digestion
Ingredients: put a handful of fresh basil leaves into a tea pot and infuse with 250ml of boiling water
Leave to steep for 10 minutes and drink in small sips. It helps with bloating and helps with the digestion if you have eaten too much or too heavy food.
Pasta with home-made pesto and ‘Insalta Caprese’
Basil is probably best known for Italian cooking, with ‘Insalata Caprese’ and pesto being some of the all-time Italian classic dishes.
Home-made Pesto: 10 garlic cloves, 200g pine kennels, 40-50 fresh basil leaves (2-3 bunches), 1 tsp of sea salt, 6 tbsp of grated pecorino cheese or parmesan, 250ml olive oil
1)Peel garlic gloves and put together with pine kennels into a food processor
2) Add basil leaves and blend the mixture quickly together. But make sure that the mixture is not too fine, as pesto is not a mash, but a coarse mixture of herbs. Then remove the herb mixture from the blender into a side dish.
3) Put the rest of the ingredients into the food processor and blend them all together until they form a smooth paste. Finally add the smooth paste to the coarse herb mixture and seal in pots and jars.
These jars should last for a while, especially when you keep them cool. Then cook fresh pasta of your choice and add the pesto to it.
Insalata Caprese : This is the typical Italian starter
6 medium tomatoes, rich and ripe, 300g fresh mozzarella, 1 tsp. dried oregano, 6 large basil leaves, 4 tbsp extra virgin oil, 1 tbsp. capers, salt and ground pepper
1) Wash and dry the tomatoes and slice them into 0.5cm (1/4 inch) slices. Then slice the mozzarella the same way.
2) Arrange on a platter one slice of tomato/mozzarella/tomato and so on, always slightly overlapping.
3) Sprinkle the oregano and capers on top. Then tear up the basil and scatter them on the platter and finally season with olive oil, salt and ground pepper
It is a very easy dish to prepare, but the secret is to make it fresh and to buy the best produce possible !