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Basil isn't bashful.

Basil isn't bashful Full of summer's fragrance, basil is an ancient herb that's more popular than ever. Once relegated to Italian dishes, basil is used in other cuisines that have made an impact in the West in recent years. From this new perspective comes appreciation for basil in sweet environs, even for breakfast.

Basil is readily available. Western markets with good produce sections regularly offer the fresh herb. Home gardeners find basil easy to cultivate (for information applicable to your climate zone, see the Sunset Western Garden Book).

In fact, some basil fans get so carried away they make it the focus of various galas and good times. Some events take place at home. Others, like the one at right, are on a larger scale--Malibu nurseryman Bob Rosebrock sponsors a pesto competition.

At Greentree Grocers in San Diego's Clairemont district, the herb stars in a week-long festival, and near Portland, Dutch Mill Herb Farms puts on a similar basil affair.

Why this interest? It's simple: basil is easy to like. The flavor is full and fresh, with a summery pungency that hints of the plant's family ties to mint. But the basil group is itself quite extensive.

Best known and most available is regular or sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), with large, tender green leaves. But in the market, you'll also occasionally see basils that have distinctive overtones of lemon, cinnamon, or licorice--and carry these words in their names. Varieties differ in leaf shape and color. Lemon basil is light green with slender oval leaves. "Piccolo Verde Fino" has tiny leaves. 'Dark Opal' has purple leaves; popular in Thai cooking, it's most readily found in Asian markets. The flavor intensity of each kind depends on the variety and growing conditions; sometimes the herb has more fragrance than flavor.

Basil leaves are fragile. Bruised or cut, they turn black on standing. Stored with too much or little moisture or in conditions too hot or cold, they will turn black, wilt, or decay.

To store, pinch leaves (or tender sprigs) from stems; trim off and discard discolored parts. Rinse leaves and let dry on paper towels. Wrap in dry towels, seal in a plastic bag, and store in the warmest place in your refrigerator, or in a very cool spot (50[deg.] to 60[deg.]) for up to 1 week.

In the following recipes, sweet, lemon, cinnamon, "Piccolo Verde Fino," and 'Dark Opal' basils can be used interchangeably. Start with the amount we suggest, then add more if you like.

Tomato-Basil Mignonette 2 tablespoons pine nuts 4 large ripe tomatoes 2 to 3 dozen medium-size to large fresh basil leaves, or 1/2 cup small leaves or tiny sprigs Mignonette dressing (recipe follows) Salt

In a 6- to 8-inch frying pan over medium heat, stir nuts until lightly browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Core tomatoes and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange tomato slices and basil leaves equally on each of 4 salad plates. Spoon mignonette dressing over tomatoes and basil. Garnish salads with nuts; season to taste with salt. Makes 4 servings.

Mignonette dressing. In a bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup dry white wine; 2 tablespoons each minced shallots, chopped fresh basil leaves, and lemon juice; and 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper.

Pesto

Use as you like--with hot pasta, for example, or on toasted French bread. 2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves 1 cup (5 oz.) firmly packed grated parmesan cheese 1/2 to 2/3 cup olive oil 1 or 2 cloves garlic (optional)

In a blender or food processor, whirl the basil, parmesan, 1/2 cup oil, and garlic until smoothly pureed; add more oil if needed. If made ahead, cover and chill up to 5 days; or freeze in small, easy-to-use portions. Makes 1-1/2 cups.

Melon Steeped in Basil and Mint

Serve at breakfast, to start a meal, or as a cool summer dessert. 2 cups water 1/3 cup sugar 1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves 1/3 cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves 2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger 1 small (3 to 3-1/2 lb.) honeydew melon 1 small (2 to 2-1/2 lb.) cantaloupe Fresh basil sprigs Yogurt sauce (recipe follows)

In a 2- to 3-quart pan, bring water and sugar to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and stir in basil leaves, mint, and ginger; set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, cut honeydew and cantaloupe in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Cut each honeydew half into 6 wedges. Cut off and discard rind; set fruit aside.

With a melon baller, scoop cantaloupe into balls (or cut in cubes). Discard rind.

Place melon pieces in a 9- by 13-inch dish or pan. Pour the warm syrup over melon; cover and chill 4 to 6 hours. Drain; discard liquid, leaves, and ginger. Serve, or cover and chill up to overnight. Arrange equal portions of both melons on each of 4 dinner plates; garnish with basil sprigs. Spoon yogurt sauce onto individual portions. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Yogurt sauce. Stir together 3/4 cup vanilla-flavored yogurt, 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, and 1 teaspoon honey. If made ahead, cover and chill up to overnight.

Penne with Basil and Tomato 1/2 cup chopped green onions 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 pounds Roma-type tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped 1-1/2 cups lightly packed chopped fresh basil leaves Cooked pasta (recipe follows) Fresh basil sprigs 1 cup (about 3 oz.) lightly packed, finely shredded or grated parmesan cheese

In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan over medium-high heat, stir onions in oil until limp, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and stir just until tomatoes are hot, about 2 minutes. Stir in basil leaves. Pour tomato mixture onto hot cooked pasta. Garnish with basil sprigs. Lift pasta with 2 forks to mix. Offer parmesan cheese to add to individual servings. Makes 4 or 5 servings.

Cooked pasta. In a 5- to 6- quart pan over high heat, bring 3 quarts water to a boil. Stir in 2 cups (8 oz.) dry penne, mostaccioli, or rigatoni pasta. Boil, stirring occasionally, until pasta is tender to bite, about 15 minutes. Drain well; pour into a wide serving bowl. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter and 1/2 cup lightly packed grated parmesan cheese; lift with 2 forks to mix well. Use hot.

Thai Chicken and Basil Stir-fry 6 dried shiitake mushrooms, each 2 to 3 inches in diameter Water 2 to 4 tablespoons salad oil 1 medium-size onion, thinly sliced 3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger 2 pounds boned chicken breasts; discard skin and cut meat crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide strips Cooking sauce (recipe follows) 5 green onions (ends trimmed), cut into 1-inch pieces, including tops 1-1/2 cups lightly packed slivered fresh basil leaves Hot cooked rice

In a bowl, soak mushrooms in water to cover until soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Lift mushrooms from water, squeeze dry, and trim off and discard tough stems. Cut caps into 1/4-inch slivers and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 10- to 12-inch frying pan or a wok over high heat. Add onion, garlic, and ginger; stir-fry until onion is a light gold color. Scoop vegetables into a bowl and set aside.

Add chicken strips to pan, 1/3 at a time; stir occasionally until meat is tinged with brown, about 3 minutes. Lift strips from pan and put with cooked vegetables. Repeat to cook remaining chicken; add 1 tablespoon oil with each batch of chicken if needed to prevent sticking.

Pour cooking sauce into pan and boil until reduced by 1/3. Return onion and chicken to the pan. Add basil, mushrooms, and green onions; stir to heat through. Serve on rice. Makes 4 or 5 servings.

Cooking sauce. Mix together 3/4 cup canned or thawed frozen coconut milk, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 3 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1-1/2 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla) or soy sauce, and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed dried hot red chilies.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:recipes
Publication:Sunset
Date:Aug 1, 1986
Words:1349
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