The soft shiny green leaves of this pungent Mediterranean herb are the essential ingredient in pesto and are widely used in many Italian dishes (it goes especially well with tomatoes). The most common variety has a warm, sweet, spicy smell with large leaves, but other varieties such as Purple basil, which has a milder flavour, and the fragrant Thai or Asian Holy basil may also be found.
Growing pots and packs of cut basil are available all year round.
Keep growing pots of basil fresh by keeping them on a sunny windowsill, picking off wilted leaves and watering from the base of the pot; it will grow for several weeks. Basil should be wrapped in damp kitchen paper and stored in the salad drawer of the fridge; it will last around 1or 2 days. Basil is also available dried but has far less flavour.
Basil retains more flavour if shredded or torn rather than chopped with a knife, and is best added at the end of cooking. Add to cooked pasta with garlic and olive oil, scatter on a pizza, or add leaves to any salad recipes– particularly tomato and mozzarella. To make the classic pesto sauce, pound basil leaves in a pestle and mortar with grated garlic, Parmesan, pine nuts and olive oil to make a paste. Holy basil is best cooked (in Thai curries and noodle dishes) rather than used raw.