When I was a mere coed at Ole Miss, I wrote for “The Daily Mississippian” under the penname ”Basil Metabolism.” All my buddies in the journalism school called me Basil. I guess the moniker was prophetic because so many years later, I find that basil is one plant I can grow successfully. (However, my metabolism seems to get more sluggish with every passing year.)
A trendy, tasty herb, basil has come into its own in recent years as one of the most popular homegrown seasonings. In fact, you can sprinkle basil on anything and improve the flavor.
Several weeks ago I picked a bunch and stuffed it into a vase just because it looked pretty, Today it was looking a little brown around the edges and I decided to toss it.
Low and behold, as, I lifted it from the vase I discovered lots of little roots. I popped them into some dirt and they are off and running again.
But there’s more to basil than just an herb that perks up otherwise mundane recipes. A member of the mint family, basil enjoys a rich if not bizarre history of legendary proportion.
In Romania, when a lad accepts a sprig of basil from a maiden, he is officially engaged. I am told that in some parts of Italy, men wear a sprig of basil on their lapels if they are looking for a mate.
While the folklore is intriguing, basil remains a fabulously tasty herb that is easy to grow. My favorite way to serve basil is as a chiffon-ade over tomatoes and mozzarella with a dusting of parmesan cheese and a bit of olive oil. Stalks of basil can be added to bottles of vinegar and used on salads.
Use a good quality wine vinegar and allow the vinegar/basil to steep for at least 2 weeks before using. You can do the same with a bottle of olive oil. Basil leaves can be dried and crumbled and used just like the store-bought varieties. Fresh Basil leaves can be packed into the bottom of an airtight container, covered with olive oil, and stored in the fridge for a month or 2.
I like to microwave my basil when I prepare to dry it for winter. You can plunk it on a paper towel and start at about two minutes. Viola. It becomes dried basil while you file your fingernails. But don’t freeze your Basil! Freezing will render it useless. My friend Kathy makes this unusual salad using watermelons, feta and basil. It sounds like an unlikely combination – but believe me, it is delicious and a beauty to behold.
3-1/2 pounds (6 cups) seedless watermelon (rind removed), cut into 1- inch cubes
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
salt and pepper
4 ounces (1 cup) feta cheese, crumbled
Combine watermelon, lime juice and half the basil in a large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Divide among four plates; scatter cheese and remaining basil on top. This should serve four.