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Basil Cooking Tips

Fresh basil is best known for pesto and pistou


J Shepherd/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

Basil Cooking Tips

• Basil is the ultimate complement to tomatoes, and also pairs beautifully with onions, garlic, and olives.

• Basil stimulates the appetite and helps curb flatulence, perhaps another reason why it works so well with garlic. Basil tea is said to help with dysentery, nausea, and stomach distress due to gas.

• The leaves are the prime part of the plant. Small stems are okay, but thicker stems and stalks should be discarded because they tend to be bitter. The stems and large veins also contain compounds that will cause pesto to turn brown and dark.

• Although pinching back the flowers will encourage more leaf growth, the creamy-white flowers are edible.

• Most other herbs tend to overpower basil's flavor and aroma, but oregano is one that is most often used in conjunction with basil. Other good combinations include summer savory, rosemary, and sage.

• For the most intense flavor, basil should be added at the end of the cooking process. Prolonged heat will cause basil's volatile oils to dissipate.

• Ground with garlic and olive oil into a paste, basil is a prime ingredient in pistou, a Mediterranian specialty.

• In Italy, pine nuts and sometimes grated hard cheese are added to the paste to become pesto. Both pistou and pesto come from verb roots meaning to to pulverize, as with a pestle. Younger leaves are preferable for pesto. Pesto may easily be frozen, but if you plan on freezing it, leave out the cheese.

• Pesto is most often served with pasta. Enzymatic reactions between basil and flour may cause an unappetizing brown color to the pasta. When serving pesto with pasta, add a squeeze of lemon juice to the pasta cooking water to help keep the pasta from turning dark.

• Basil is a perfect candidate as a flavor for infused oil, but does not work as well with vinegar for long-term. Basil is one of the flavoring ingredients for the liqueur, Chartreuse.

• You will never get full flavor when using dried basil, so keep this in mind when substituting dried for fresh. However, if you find yourself in dire need and without fresh basil, use 1/3 the amount of dried basil substituted for fresh. One tablespoon of fresh chopped basil equals 1 teaspoon dried.

• When substituting fresh basil for dried, triple the amount.

• One-half ounce of fresh basil leaves equals 1 cup chopped fresh basil.

More about Basil and Basil Recipes:

Basil Selection and Storage
Basil Cooking Tips
Basil History
Basil Lore and Legends
Basil Recipes
Basil Photo © 2008 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, licensed to About.com, Inc.


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