Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Basil: The Amazing Herb with an Aromatic Punch
We have seen a fair share of basil this CSA season. I doubt anyone is complaining though. Basil can be used for so many different things, so it is always welcome. Once upon a time I thought basil was just an ugly ground up spice that lived in my mother's spice tin. Seldom used but for her spaghetti sauce, I had no idea the power of basil; the aroma, the gorgeous color, or even the fact that it could single-handedly revolutionize a dish. Somewhere in my history I came upon a recipe which called for fresh basil, and so came time for me to learn about this wonderful leafy herb. Many times when we visit the grocery store we see "basil" packaged in a little plastic pack, generically labeled to the hilt. Package labels like these are deceiving, because really there is definitely not just one "basil." If fact, there are actually more than 60 different varieties! Lemon, purple ruffle, lime, cinnamon, red rubin, sweet, and dark opal basil, the names sound romantic and rightly so, for basil can be responsible for turning a seemingly sensible dish turned blasé, into something quite wonderful.
Pesto is one of basil's greatest transformations. You can order it at just about any pasta serving restaurant and can buy it at almost every grocery store. But is it good. That is really the question. I am sure for as many decent pestos on the market the number of awful ones are three-fold. The sauce itself can be as simple as a blend of basil and pine nuts, and as intense as brought by the addition of hot peppers, roasted pistachios, sun dried tomatoes, garlic, and red bell peppers. One of the best pestos I've ever had the pleasure of tasting comes from our very own backyard: Basiltops, in Cardiff-by-the-Sea. I first tasted Cynthia's pesto at my local Vista Farmer's Market and was hooked. Next time you find yourself shopping at one of our area's Farmers Markets, look for them - take a taste (they sample abundantly!) and you will not think twice about forking over $10. While pesto is wonderful, let's not forget that basil can be used for so much more. Basil's repertoire includes uses such as a classic topping on pizza, an ingredient in soup, layered on cheese atop a crusty bread, tossed in a stir fry, infused into oils for salads, and even as tea (basil leaves torn and thrown in boiling water make an invigorating brew, and also aides in digestion). Note to self: basil should be torn, not chopped.
This little story about a love affair with basil must include the fact that basil is nutritionally wonderful. For all of you health food lovers, listen up! Basil has been shown to provide protection against unwanted bacterial growth, hosts a unique array of flavonoids, is considered an anti-inflammatory aid, and is high in Vitamins A and K, potassium, magnesium, iron, and Vitamin C. The nutritional aspects in basil found through Vitamin A not only protects certain cells from free radical damage, but also helps prevent free radicals from oxidizing cholesterol in the blood stream. Fantastic! In essence basil is more than just an aromatic herb that lives in your planter box, it is a diverse plant that is nutritious, delicious and aromatically pleasing. And it is really so much more than that ugly ground up spice in your mother's spice rack...