Of the responses from my HARO query on using basil, a number of people decided to talk about not just how they use basil, but the memory it conjures up from the first time they did so. But, hey, they can tell you better than I can ...
Wendy from PeckPress.com was the first to respond in using basil. Wendy “...use(s) basil year round for the typical things, but during the summer, I expand my basil use. I am an avid gardener who always grows way too much, if there is such a thing. My favourite way to use basil during the feast season is on my sandwiches. I always have great lettuce, but sometimes I switch it up by using a mild flavoured lettuce for crunch, and several large leaves of basil, usually cut in strips, for flavour. I just had a BLT today with fresh romaine and genovese basil. Pure summer taste.”
When told that I planned to use her quote, Wendy shared that she is working on a book about healthy cooking while traveling, so have quite a few around. These don't really have recipes as such, more methods. She is an avid gardener, so her meals at home tend to come from what is ready in her garden.
I am actually Irish, but chose Geno's Garden as my business name, as that is a nickname of mine. For some reason the strongest association I have with basil is from when I first started gardening. I had grown basil and tomatoes and had a big greek salad with greek olives and lettuce and mozzarella, olive oil and red wine vinegar. It was SO good. Now, basil always smells like summer to me. Just a tiny whiff and I'm transported to that salad (the setting helped, camping with friends in Napa Valley). Another, but less evocative basil experience, was basil added to an egg scramble...usually I'm not too fond of scrambled eggs, but the basil lifted it up to a whole new level.
I love using basil. I always insist on making pesto from scratch whenever taking over a new kitchen and from that also make pesto mayo. At home I grow my own basil for use in all kinds of things. I like to mix fresh basil into my scrambled eggs with goat cheese. I also love the herbaceous pop it gives Asian foods like spare ribs.
Since returning from Italy last year and learning how to make pesto, I became a basil fanatic. I have a scribbled copy of a master chef's personal recipe but am not sure I can release that directly. I wasn't sure kids who are not inclined to try new things - especially really, really green things - would like it, but it has become an ABSOLUTE FAVORITE at my house. I even have other people asking me to make basil pesto for them! Yes, it's better than anything I have yet to taste back in the states if I do say so myself. I also attempted my first grow-my-own basil last year. I used plants that were already growing and found that they flourished. Now harvesting seeds for a new planting year? That didn't go so well. So a new adventure is waiting. I have a good friend who loves tea her husband doesn't enjoy tea EXCEPT for basil tea. She grows her own, dries the leaves and keeps it on hand through the winter for his one refresher, hot basil tea.
I think basil is a fantastic herb. I use it to compliment a variety of dishes (I particularly love the combination of corn and basil). Unfortunately, I can never get it to grow in the backyard (actually, I can't even grow dirt - it's my fault, not the plant's). We have a gourmet cooking club, and I came up with a wonderfully simple and unusual appetizer recipe using basil for our chocolate-themed Gathering in February.
I love using fresh basil! Planted a few good sweet basil plants several years ago, and I always let them go to seed. They've replanted themselves, albeit in a different location than my original choice for them, and come back every year. I recently had a dinner party for my cousin and a friend of his, and used fresh basil leaves snipped over the top of a plate of pasta. Both of them are middle-aged men, and both commented on what a great flavor it added to the dish. Very simple way to dress up a basic pasta dish. I also used the flower from one of my basil plants as garnish for a simple dip. Using a store-bought pesto sauce and a container of ricotta cheese, I made a simple and easy dip for vegetables that went over very well at a party. To dress it up, I'd stuck a stem of basil with the flower in the bowl of dip. Easy as could be! I haven't gotten ambitious enough to make my own pesto sauce yet, but perhaps one day I will. My mother was an old-fashioned Southern cook whose main seasoning was salt. When I moved in with her several years ago, I introduced her to the joys of cooking with fresh herbs, and her favorite was sweet basil. She loved to include it in salads, and continued to do so right up until her passing away last year. I like to think that my influence helped her live a few extra, healthier years.
I think basil is great in the traditional recipes--tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella salad. But there's so much more. It's tasty as a salad green--mix it in with your baby spinach or mesculun greens. Too much basil? No problem. Chop basil in a rough chop. Add to 1 stick of softened butter. Mix well. Take basil butter, put on a piece of wax paper. Create a log. Seal and freeze. In the doldrums of winter, slice a piece and mix in with mashed potatoes, rice, noodles or any pasta. It tastes garden fresh. Or, make pesto and freeze--equally as fresh tasting in winter. The purple basil is delicious and unexpected in a melon fruit salad--it's a nice contrast to the sweetness of the melons.
I've been growing basil for making pesto for a few years. Just this year my husband and I decided to plant some Thai basil. We've been experimenting more and more with Asian cooking, and the Thai basil really give it that extra kick, but has been hard for us to find in the stores.
Do you have a great story about how you started using basil or why you continue to use it? Share it!