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Contributed by: Jennifer Wickes

What is it?

Basil is part of the mint family. It is a key ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine. It has beautiful green leaves. Opal Basil, on the contrary, has purple leaves. There are other varieties of basil: lemon basil, cinnamon basil, anise basil and clove basil. Choose evenly colored leaves with no sign of bruising, wilting or yellowing.

Where did it originate?

The Mediterranean.

Other Names

Known as the "royal herb" by ancient Greeks.


Fresh herbs should be carefully washed then wrapped in a damp paper towel, then placed in a plastic bag and stored in the butter compartment of the refrigerator up to 4 days.

Dried herbs will only maintain freshness for 6 months to a year, so the smallest possible sized container should be bought if any particular herb is not used often.

Can be frozen in small quantities.

Serve with:

Asparagus, beans, savory breads, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, cheese, chicken, turkey, cucumber, eggplant, eggs, fruits, lamb, onion, parsnip, pasta, peas, potato, rice, salad, spinach, stuffing, tomato, tuna, vegetables.


Annual herb with a tendency to take over. Summer plant but can be grown successfully indoors during the winter months.



Recipe By: Christopher Ranch of Gilroy

  • 4 large garlic clove
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaf
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Peel garlic. Combine garlic, basil, pine nuts and salt in blender jar. Blend at low speed until ingredients are chopped fine and form a paste. Gradually blend in oil alternately with cheese, blending until well mixed. Use as sauce for pasta or flavoring for soups. To store, turn into jar and cover with a layer of olive oil. Cover tightly and refrigerate.

TO PREPARE SAUCE WITH MORTAR AND PESTLE: Chop, mash or put garlic through garlic press. Chop basil leaves fine. Place pine nuts in large mortar, and crush fine with pestle. Blend in salt and 2 tablespoons oil to form a paste. Add garlic and continue working with pestle until well blended. Add chopped basil and continue blending with pestle until fine and well mixed. Blend in remaining oil alternately with cheese.

* If fresh basil is unavailable, pesto may be made when the basil is in supply and kept frozen, or a combination of dried basil and fresh parsley can be used as a good substitute. Replace the 1-cup of fresh basil leaves with 4 tablespoons of dried basil, 1 cup of fresh parsley packed loosely (no stems) and 1/3-cup water. Blend all ingredients including cheese in a blender or food processor.


In Genoa, the famous pasta dressing, "Pesto," is a fragrant melding of the flavors of fresh basil and garlic with additions, depending on the cook, of pine nuts or pulverized, dry Romano or Parmesan cheese.

Traditionalists have their special mortar and pestle for grinding the pesto ingredients, but a modern blender or food processor works just as well. The essentials to remember are that the garlic should be firm and fresh and the basil always freshly picked, not dried. When basil is flourishing, large batches of pesto can be prepared and frozen in small containers for use when the herb is less available.

This article was originally published at Suite 101.

Jennifer Wickes is the editor at "Cookbook Reviews" and "Cooking With The Seasons", which has been voted to be one of the Top 100 Culinary Sites on the Internet! For more information about Jennifer Wickes or her columns, please go to:



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