By Heidi Lewis
“Isn’t the pasta delicious with basilicum?’”
“Ma, you talk funny. You sound like a librarian.”
“I am a librarian, dear. A capite ad calcem (from head to toe).”
“But why do you talk in Italian?”
“It’s Latin, dear. Latin or Latinized words are used in the naming of plants and animals. If you’re going to be a zoologist, marine biologist, botanist, or landscaper, you need to know the scientific names. It is key to preventing confusion with the many common names or names that vary from region to region. That way we have adaequatio intellectus nostri cum re (conformity of our minds to the fact).”
“So Ma, what’s with the basilicum on my victus (food)?”
Basil or Ocimum basilicum has many variations: O. basilicum var. thyrsiflorum (Thai basil) and O. basilicum piccolo (fine basil). There are different cultivars, like O. basilicum citriodorum (lemon basil), O. x citriodorum (a lemon hybrid known as Greek basil), and O. sanctum (holy basil or tulsi, highly regarded for its medicinal tea properties). Different basilicum will give you different flavors.
Preparation: Because of the vital oils in basil, it is best used fresh. An ideal way to chop it is the chiffonade method. Stack the leaves like a sheaf and roll into a cigar. Then cut thinly on the bias resulting in ribbons perfect to decorate salads, pastas, or a stir-fry. Primo use for basil is, of course, pesto. Easy to make in a food processor, be sure to remove the stems and use the leaves only. The robust flavor of basil is great in any part of a meal, from the first antipasti to the last sweet granita. As the Roman poet Horace said, “Ab ovo usque ad mala” (“from egg to apple or beginning to end”).
Storage: Store with freshly cut stems in water (changed daily) in a vase-like jar or glass covered with an inverted plastic bag at cool room temperature and out of direct sunlight.To dry: Hang upside down in sunny spot until completely dried, then chop up and freeze for later use.