How to grow, store, and use Sweet Basil
Basil is a common herb used for cooking. It comes in many varieties, but there are two types that are most commonly used. The first type is Sweet Basil, which like its name describes, tends to have a sweet, slightly aromatic flavor. It is perhaps most notably used in Italian cooking. The second type is Thai Basil, which is native to Southeast Asia. It tends to be slightly spicy and is more stable under high or extended cooking temperatures. For today's post, I will be focusing on Sweet Basil.
Basil can be used dried, although the flavor is more intense in the fresh leaves. If using fresh leaves, add them near the end of the cooking process otherwise they will lose flavor and possibly turn bitter.
Basil can be grown in a pot in your sunniest spot with barely moist soil. I've found it grows pretty well and has been hard to kill, even for me. I guess it can be sensitive to cold, though, so keep it away from strong drafts. Picking the leaves off the plant helps promote growth. If your plant goes to flower, pinch off any flower stems before they mature. If they are allowed to mature, that stem will stop producing and the stem becomes woody.
If you have a little bouquet of fresh basil stems that you will use in the next few days, you can put them into a vase with a little bit of water. It will keep them fresh, and the smell is heavenly. Otherwise, store fresh leaves in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. They will last for a few days. I've also read that you can blanch the leaves and store them in the freezer for longer periods, although I've never tried this method.
I absolutely love Italian food and part of the reason is because of the flavor that basil adds to the mix. The flavor is very distinct and fresh. It has a subtle peppery flavor at first that becomes slightly sweet and aromatic.
Here are a few ways to use basil to really enjoy its flavor.