How to Use Basil
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Mark Holmes
Posted on: August 24, 1998

I planted an herb garden this year. However, the only thing that has grown is a basil plant. Please tell me what to do with this: do I dry it? How, do I use it fresh? How.

Basil is one of the most popular herbs. A big reason is the enormous popularity of pesto which is usually made with fresh basil. Pesto, of course, is made with fresh basil, olive oil, garlic and pine nuts, and it is used in pasta dishes, salads, on bread, and in other creative ways.

Basil has a natural affinity for tomatoes: almost any dish made with tomatoes will benefit from fresh chopped or dried basil. Tomato sauce, tomato salad, pizza, pasta, and even tomato juice all taste better with basil added. Experienced gardeners try to position their basil near to their tomatoes so that basil and tomatoes can be gathered easily at the same time.

You likely have planted the common sweet basil. It comes in many forms, differing in leaf shape and size and in height and compactness. All of these sweet types can be used for pesto and tomato dishes. Basil also comes in more exotic forms, such as the lemon and lime, and anise and cinnamom basils. These too, can be used fresh or dried in cooking.

Basil is such a wonderful herb with many uses, it is worthwhile, and fun, to experiment with it. It helps to have an expert cook and gardener to guide you, and we have just the book. Tom DeBaggio, basil grower extraordinaire, and Susan Belsinger, cook extraordinaire, have written a book called "Basil: An Herb Lover’s Guide" which is available from Richters. It covers 50 different types of basil, and it has recipes for 36 heavenly dishes.

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