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Bringing Basil To Your Table

The bright green appearance and spicy fragrance of basil has endeared this herb to cooks for centuries. It brings a pungent, slightly spicy taste to soup, stew, stir fry, salad, and even sandwiches. Once you start cooking with basil, you’ll discover just how versatile this simple plant can be.

A Bit About Basil

Basil, sometimes called sweet basil, is a leafy green plant related to mint. It grows in long thin stems that can reach almost two feet in height. During summer, small white flowers appear on the tops of the stems. Bees and other helpful insects are often attracted to basil so gardeners favor these fragrant plants.

There are many species of basil, almost all of which are used in cooking. The oldest species are known to have grown in India; Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries have also used basil in cooking and religious rites for several centuries. Today the herb is cultivated and enjoyed on nearly every continent. Basil requires little care and can be grown indoors and out; even apartment dwellers can enjoy the taste that fresh basil brings to their cooking.

Basil Recipes

Bruschetta: A Simple Italian Appetizer

Simple flavors come together to create a magnificent traditional Italian appetizer. Serve this before your next Italian dinner or just as a snack. Roma tomatoes work best in this dish though feel free to experiment with heirloom varieties for added color and flavor.


· Crusty Italian bread, cut into slices about one inch thick

· Two pounds of tomatoes, thinly sliced

· Four cloves of garlic, finely minced

· 3 Tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped

· 3 – 5 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil

· 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

· Salt and fresh ground pepper (to taste)


1. Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, shiny side down.

2. Mix together vinegar, garlic, basil, salt, and pepper; add half the amount of olive oil and mix again. Set aside.

3. Lightly toast bread in a warm oven at 250 degrees.

4. Remove bread when it starts to get a little crisp; brush bread slices with vinegar mixture and top with the chopped tomatoes. Brush any remaining olive oil on top of the tomatoes.

5. Place bread back in the oven until tomatoes get warm (about ten minutes).

6. Serve immediately.

Tomato Basil Pesto Sauce

Pesto is a zesty sauce made with loads of fresh basil. This recipe adds sun-dried tomatoes for an extra burst of flavor. Add to pasta or use as a sandwich spread.


· 6 pieces of sun-dried tomato, softened

· 2 cups fresh basil, roughly chopped

· 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

· 3 Tbsp toasted pine nuts (unsalted, if possible)

· ¼ cup olive olive

· Salt to taste


1. Place sun-dried tomatoes in a bowl of warm water. Set aside.

2. Add softened tomatoes, garlic, basil, and pine nuts into a food processor. Pulse briefly to chop the ingredients into smaller pieces.

3. Add olive oil and salt to food processor. Pulse a few more times until the mixture gains a fine, smooth consistency.

4. Pesto can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Old-Fashioned Minestrone Soup

This popular soup is the perfect way to experiment with different ingredients. Mediterranean herbs such as oregano and basil bring excitement to the dish. Fresh ground pepper deepens the vegetable broth and crushed red pepper adds a little kick. Cannellini beans are traditionally used though any white bean can be used. Use in-season fresh Italian green beans if you can find them. Lightly steam them before adding them to your soup.


· 4 cups vegetable broth

· 1 small can diced tomatoes (14 ounce)

· 1 cup minced yellow onion

· 1 cup chopped zucchini or yellow squash

· ½ cup fresh, frozen, or canned Italian green beans

· 1 stalk of celery, finely chopped

· 2 cups fresh or frozen spinach

· ¼ cup ditalini or other small pasta

· 4 – 5 cloves crushed garlic

· 1 can cannellini beans or other white bean

· 2 Tbsp fresh basil (or ½ tsp dried)

· 1 Tbsp fresh oregano (or 1 tsp dried)

· 1 Tbsp fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)

· 1 tsp salt

· ½ tsp pepper (or to taste)


1. Heat olive oil in soup pot over medium heat.

2. Add onion, garlic, spinach, celery, and green beans. Add spices as ingredients begin to soften. Lightly sauté until spinach is wilted and the onions turn translucent.

3. Add broth, canned tomatoes, zucchini, cannellini beans, and pasta.

4. Bring mixture to a bubble then reduce heat to low; simmer for approximately 20 minutes or until pasta is cooked.

5. Serve immediately. Soup can be frozen or stored in the refrigerator for around ten days.

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January 2013