Food glossary

A basil leaf


Much used in Mediterranean cookery, basil loses its flavour when cooked, so add it after cooking: small leaves whole; larger ones torn up (for their best flavour) rather than chopped. One of the most difficult herbs to preserve, the only medium in which it retains its fresh flavour is oil so, when appropriate, use basil-flavoured olive oil - which is concentrated so only a few drops are needed.

There are many different types of basil, all of which have the same wonderfully overpowering aroma. Purple leaved basil adds an exotic touch to salads but has a more subtle flavour than the green varieties. Lemon basil has a citrus aroma and goes particularly well with fish. Small leaved Greek basil is the best type for sauces, while the larger fleshy leaves of the popular Italian basil is best for salads and the famous Genoese basil sauce, pesto, which goes especially well with pasta. Sweet Thai basil is a variety widely used in South East Asian cooking. Fresh basil in sunflower oil is a convenient form of basil in a jar - ideal for spooning into recipes dishes.

Basil is the classic partner to any tomato dish. Use as a garnish for buttered carrots, new potatoes, French beans or courgettes. Add whole leaves to salads and pasta dishes.
Use basil in oil to add a distinctive basil flavour to sauces, pasta dishes and dips.

To store:
Best purchased as a pot plant, using the leaves as required. Keep the plant well watered and on a sunny windowsill. Dried basil should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight. Basil in oil should be stored in the fridge once opened and used within 6 weeks.