Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Ocimum Basilicum

It's not Summer without Basil

Once on a trip to Greece we noted the pots of small-leafed basil sitting, round and pretty, on verandahs. To our surprise we discovered that it was decorative basil, that the Greeks do not eat basil. Subsequently we introduced some Greek friends to pesto and it caused quite a sensation.

I see that Mediterranean basil is also called Italian or sweet basil so perhaps it is the Italians above all who prize the herb in the kitchen.

Also called St Joseph's wort, basil seems to be one of those miraculous cure-alls. I cite from a medical dictionary:

A bushy annual culinary and medicinal herb that contains camphor, estragol, eugenol, linalol, lineol, tannins, and thymol; basil is antipyretic and carminative, and has been used for abdominal bloating, cramps, diarrhoea, and nausea. It is also grown indoors in southern Europe as a fly repellent.

Fly repellents aside, we are most interested in basil's culinary uses. 
 A tomato salad in summer is incomplete without basil. Add fresh mozzarella and you have a 'caprese'. Locally here in Tuscany (and central Italy in general), the summer dish 'panzanella', based on stale bread, tomatoes, sweet onions and basil in olive oil and vinegar dressing, (but there are contemporary variations involving olives, capers and anchovies) is a famed favourite. 

And then there is pesto, for which we have the Ligurians to thank. This marvellous sauce should be made in a mortar, pounded with a pestle but these days we all use our kitchen aid or buy good quality pre-prepared pesto. Essential ingredients are loads of basil, garlic to taste, pine kernels, pecorino cheese (or failing that, parmesan) and olive oil. It is best served with twists of pasta called trofie, and a scattering of French beans and boiled potato. 

The Sicilian version substitutes the pine kernels with almonds and adds tomato; also very good, specially if served with pasta and lightly-fried aubergine/eggplant.

Nowadays pesto seems to top many a tasty Mediterranean dish: basil is travelling far and wide.

However basil is not just popular with human Italians, it is also a favourite of a basil-green, non-human Italian grasshopper which frequents our garden. I am rather indulgent with this grasshopper: I look on it as sharing the basil with us.

It's hard to blame it for being mad about the herb.


  1. Basilica is certainly much prized. It is easy to forgive the basilica green grasshopper his passion for the plant.

  2. Ocimum Basilicum,is the plant from which that marvellous basil comes which so lifts and enriches so many excellent italian recipes.The very interesting information and photos of this important plant and those mouth watering dishes which include basil,pesto,tomatoes,pine kernels,wonderful cheeses, and pastas,etc,which are so famous in the italian culinary art,are beautifully described.


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