We Sicilians call it “buzz-lee-go” but the real Italian way to say it is “ba-sil-ico” but however you say it, basil is da bomb! You can not have an Italian kitchen without basil. In fact, you really should have basil in any kind of kitchen you keep. There are many kinds of basil from purple to holy to sweet, but it is all delicioso. Basil grows so easily so if you get the opportunity to plant it, even from seed, in your yard or a pot on your windowsill, you will not be sorry. Basil will grow and grow and grow, just make sure to pinch back the flowers that start to form from the stem, for once it flowers, it won’t grow as well. You really want the leaves, as they are the fragrant herb of the Gods. Why they don’t make a perfume out of this stuff is beyond me.
In cooking, basil can be added at any point and at many times during the cooking process. For instance, if you are making a tomato sauce, you can add it while you saute onions and garlic or directly to the tomato stage, but also consider throwing a handful into the pot closer to when you serve as the longer it cooks, the more it mellows and virtually loses flavor. Basil is so mild and fragrant that you can eat it raw. My little grandson walks through my garden and picks basil leaves directly off the plan and munches on them. Basil is particularly good paired with fresh tomatoes, a little EVOO and salt and pepper or in a simple caprese salad.
My strong advice is, if you can, don’t go for the dried version. It just isn’t the same as the fresh leaves you can either grow or buy at the supermarket. If you do buy them or pick them, they don’t last too long so if you have an excess amount, throw them in a blender with some EVOO, garlic and pignoli (pine nuts) for a quick pesto.
Here are some of Rachael’s recipes using basilico. Mangia bene!
For you non-Italians: