Magazine article Sunset

Favorite Herb: Growing and Cooking with the Tastiest Types of Basil

Magazine article Sunset

Favorite Herb: Growing and Cooking with the Tastiest Types of Basil

Article excerpt

Basil smells like summer. Take a deep whiff of its distinctive spicy-sweet scent and you can almost taste the juicy tomato slices waiting on your plate for a few flavor-filled leaves. No wonder basil is among our favorite annual herbs.

The essential oils that give sweet basil leaves their aroma are made of just a few compounds. Linalool is responsible for the light floral character; eugenol, the clove; and methyl chavicol, the anise. But the ratio of these compounds is different in each type of basil, and consequently so is each variety's perfume. If you grow several kinds of basil, you can select whatever scent complements the food you're preparing.

Use standard sweet basils--the type most commonly stocked at supermarkets--for pesto or other Italian dishes; lemon basils with fish or poultry; anise basil for Thai or other spicy dishes; and red and purple basils for garnish or to add sparkle to salads. But don't restrict yourself; experiment by growing several varieties to familiarize yourself with their fragrances and flavors. Plant basil soon for a summer harvest.

Basil Lemonade

PREP TIME: About 10 minutes

NOTES: All basils add fragrance to lemonade, but colored and scented varieties contribute extra personality. Dark purple basils tint the lemonade a pretty pink but have a milder flavor than green varieties. Lemon basil adds a lemon-drop essence. Cinnamon and Thai basils contribute spicy overtones. You can make the lemonade up to 1 day ahead; cover and chill.

MAKES: 4 1/2 cups; about 4 servings

In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart glass measure or bowl, combine 1/2 cup rinsed, lightly packed fresh basil leaves (see notes) and 3 tablespoons sugar. With a wooden spoon, crush leaves with sugar until thoroughly bruised. Add 4 cups water and 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice. Stir until sugar is dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. Taste and add more sugar if desired. Pour through a fine strainer into ice-filled glasses. Garnish with sprigs of fresh basil.

Per serving: 44 cal., 0% (0 cal.) from fat; 0.1 g protein; 0 g fat; 129 carbo (0.1 g fiber); 0.4 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Tomato and Basil Orzo Salad

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 20 minutes

NOTES: Serve this warm salad as a main dish for a light lunch or as a dinner companion to grilled steak, chicken, or fish. For a casual appetizer, scoop spoonfuls of the salad into large leaves of fresh sweet basil.

MAKES: 4 to 6 light-entree servings or 8 to 10 side-dish servings

1 1/2 cups dried orzo pasta

1 1/4 pounds firm-ripe tomatoes, at room
      temperature

  3/4 cup chopped fresh basil leves

  1   or 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

  3   tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  2   tablespoons balsamic vinegar About 1/4
      cup grated parmesan cheese
      Salt and pepper

1. In a 3- to 4-quart pan over high heat, bring 1 1/2 to 2 quarts water to a boil. Add orzo and cook until barely tender to bite, 8 to 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, rinse and core tomatoes; chop and place in a large bowl. Add basil, garlic, olive oil, and vinegar; mix gently.

3. Drain pasta well and add to tomato mixture. Mix, adding parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper to taste.

Per serving: 255 cal., 32% (81 cal.) from fat; 7.8 g protein; 9 g fat (1.5 g sat.); 37 g carbo (2.69 fiber); 74 mg sodium: 2.6 mg chol.

Chicken and Basil Stir-Fry

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 25 minutes

NOTES: Thai basil adds an anise nuance, and cinnamon basil contributes notes of spice to this quick stir-fry; however, other basil varieties work well too. Serve with hot cooked rice. Asian fish sauce is available inmost supermarkets and in Asian grocery stores.

MAKES: 3 or 4 servings

1 pound boned, skinned chicken
  breast halves

  1 pound boned, skinned chicken
    breast halves

  1 tablespoons vegetable oil

  1 tablespoon minced garlic

  1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1/4 teaspoon hot chili flakes

2/3 cup fat-skimmed chicken broth

  1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
    (nuoc mam or nam pla)
    or soy sauce

  2 teaspoons cornstarch

  3 cups lightly packed fresh basil
    leaves (see notes), rinsed
    Salt

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