Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.
Today: Herbs are the unsung stars of summer produce -- we all have our favorites, but it’s pretty hard to beat basil.
Should you happen into battle with a basilisk, hopefully you’ll have a bunch of basil in your pocket -- it’s said to be the only cure for a basilisk bite. We’re not sure about that, but we do know that a handful of basil can magically elevate even the simpliest summer dish. There are over 40 varieties of basil, each with different colored leaves, textures, and flavors -- some even have a hint of lemon, lime, cinnamon, and even green pepper. Hungry yet?
Basil is related to mint -- it has the characteristic square stem that runs in the family -- and like mint, basil can help aid digestion (you’ll sometimes find it in tea). It's sometimes recommended for headaches and anxiety too, due to its mild sedative effects. If you’ve ever grown basil, you know it loves sunshine and hot weather, and is an easy addition to your garden. Though you wouldn’t know it from the French expression for sowing basil -- semer le basilic -- which can also mean ranting and raving. This is likely thanks to the Romans, who thought that basil would only grow well if it was planted while shouting and cursing. If you try this, let us know if it works.
How to Store and Prep
Basil doesn’t like to to be refrigerated -- it'll turn brown before you know it. Your best bet is to store basil in a glass of water on a sunny spot of your counter. Keep the leaves out of the water, and cut the stems right before you put them in the water. Bon Appétit recommends the addition of a loose plastic bag over the top to up the moisture level.
Many recipes call for a basil chiffonade, a term that sounds more complicated than it really is: simply stack up a pile of basil leaves, roll them lengthwise as tightly as possible, and then slice the roll crosswise (1) creating thin strips of basil.
How to Use
Basil is at home in a wide variety of dishes and pairs perfectly with summer vegetables. Basil and tomatoes are one classic combo, whether in a salad, a soup, or a sauce. Add basil to dips like guacamole, too -- raw or grilled. Try basil in pesto, a flavored oil, or salad dressings (like a creamy ranch or a vinaigrette). Basil can even liven up your desserts: add it to ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, or candied for a fancy garnish. And don’t forget about basil in your beverages, whether in lemonade, or something a little stronger. Ready to use herbs with wild abandon? We’ve got a week’s worth of basil-packed dishes for you to try.
Friday: Lemon Basil Sherbet
Saturday: Corn, Goat Cheese, Basil, and Lemon Tart with Basil and Lemon Oil
Sunday: Wild Berry Basil Panna Cotta
Monday: Pasta with Tomatoes, Garlic, Basil, and Brie
Tuesday: Zucchini with Basil, Mint, and Honey
Wednesday: Basil and Toasted Walnut Bread
Thursday: Peaches Poached with Basil
Photos by James Ransom