Basil brings out the best

September 09, 1998|By Carol J. G. Ward | Carol J. G. Ward,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Anyone who has ever sown a few basil seeds in a patio container can testify that the herb absolutely loves warm, humid weather.

This fragrant, fragile herb is easy to grow and produces prolifically if you trim off the flowers. Right about now, pesto-weary gardeners are wondering how much basil one clay pot can produce.

Like many of the culinary herbs, basil also is a strong herbal medicine. A member of the mint family, it can be used as a tonic and an antiseptic. Rub crushed, fresh basil leaves on skin to relieve insect bites.

At the market, choose basil leaves that are fully green and unfurled.

At home, plan to use fresh basil within a few days. Store basil leaves in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator. To clean, brush the leaves gently with a crumpled paper towel to remove dust or grit.

An easy way to preserve basil is freezing. Pour a small amount of olive oil into a food processor; add fresh basil leaves and process until the mixture has a pastelike consistency. Then freeze the mixture in ice cube trays and store the frozen cubes in a freezer bag.

Zucchini With Basil and Cheese

Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds small, firm zucchini

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

salt, to taste

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 tablespoons freshly grated,

imported Pecorino Romano cheese

10 basil leaves

Wash the zucchini well. Feel the surface of the skin to make sure it is smooth and free of grit. Trim the zucchini and slice into thin coins.

Place the olive oil in a large saute pan and turn the heat to high. Add the zucchini and toss in the oil until it is lightly golden in spots but still crisp, about 4 minutes.

Turn the heat to medium low, add the garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until zucchini is tender but still has a trace of crispness.

Transfer zucchini to a serving platter. Sprinkle grated Pecorino Romano cheeese over the zucchini. Tear the basil leaves into fragments and scatter them over the top.

Note: Pecorino Romano is a sheep's milk aged for grating. It has a tangy, salty taste and a drier texture and lighter color than Parmesan.

From "Verdura: Vegetables Italian Style" by Viana La Place

Pub Date: 9/09/98

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