Not too much is known about to true origins of basil, if truth be told, but what is known is that the herb has been cultivated all over the globe for at least 5000 years. Some say it originated in India, and perhaps even further east, in China. It was familiar to the ancient Romans as both a medicinal and culinary herb, and in Ancient Greece was used as a symbol of mourning. Ancient Egyptians used the leaves as an embalming and preserving herb, and one variety, holy basil, is a time-honoured ingredient in the ancient Hindu art of Ayurvedic medicine.
A mildly peppery herb with a lovely sweet, aromatic aroma and a hint of aniseed, basil has a distinctive taste that combines beautifully with other milder-flavoured ingredients such as mozzarella, pasta, olive oil and tomatoes. It’s usually best used fresh, as it tends to lose its flavour quickly when subjected to heat or long cooking times.
Many different varieties and cultivars of basil are used in various world cuisines, including holy basil, Thai basil, cinnamon basil and lemon basil. The basil we’re most familiar with, however, is sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum). It’s an annual herb that’s fairly easy to grow from seed and – provided it’s in full sun and watered often – needs very little care.
There are so many ways to use this lovely herb in your summer kitchen. Top tip: basil leaves tend to blacken quickly along the cuts when sliced with a knife, so it’s a good idea to tear the leaves rather than chop them.
- Garnish this deliciously lemony chicken pasta dish with fresh basil leaves.
- Use basil to add knock-out flavour to meatballs in a rich tomato and onion gravy.
- Make your own fresh basil pesto at home, using a Knorr Stock Pot.
- Make a classic Italian Caprese Salad by arranging thin overlapping slices of fresh tomato and mozzarella on a platter. Tuck fresh basil leaves between the slices, then drizzle with Knorr Light Italian Salad Dressing.
- Stuff deboned chicken breasts with a heavenly mixture of Brie and fresh basil for a decadent dinner party dish.