The leaves of this plant are so delightful and habit-forming, you have to marvel that it hasn’t been made illegal. Basil is undoubtedly themost loved and popular herb in Italy. Although we tend to associate itwith Italy and other Mediterranean countries, it actually originated inIndia, and was brought to the Mediterranean via the spice routes inancient times.
The leaves of this plant are so delightful and habit-forming, you have to marvel that it hasn’t been made illegal. Basil is undoubtedly the most loved and popular herb in Italy. Although we tend to associate it with Italy and other Mediterranean countries, it actually originated in India, and was brought to the Mediterranean via the spice routes in ancient times.
Tulsi, as the herb is known in Hindi, means "Sacred Basil," and some of the many varieties of the plant were incorporated into Indian cooking centuries ago. From India, basil traveled not only to Europe and Africa, but spread to other parts of Asia as well, most notably to Thailand. Today, there are at least a dozen varieties grown for culinary use, and countless other cultivars. Sweet Basil (Ocimum bacilicum), and its close relativebasilico genovese, are the only varieties used in Italian cooking to avoid the mint flavor common in other types. Its flavor has been described as spicy and peppery, with a hint of clove and mint - but of course this doesn’t come close to capturing its unique essence. Perhaps it’s more helpful to talk about what it pairs with best: olive oil, garlic, lemon, rosemary and thyme - and of course, tomatoes. Basil and tomatoes seem to have been made for each other - as in the beloved insalate caprese, as well as tomato sauces. But, this herb is also great with other vegetables - such as zucchine and melanzane (eggplant), to name just a few - and is widely used in many pasta dishes.
If you’re growing basil in your garden or at a window, cut basil leaves as needed for the kitchen from the top. The leaves grow back quickly. Basil preserves well in oil and can also be frozen. It is rich in anti-oxidants, and some claim it has anti-cancer and anti-viral properties. In Italy, basil is believed to help along the penichella - the after-lunch nap that millions of Italians still enjoy on hot summer afternoons.