BASIL

Mediterranean Basil is one of the most pleasant spices, and indispensable for several Mediterranean cuisines. The sweet and aromatic fragrance is especially popular in Italy. Since the delicate aroma of basil is quickly destroyed by cooking, chopped basil leaves are frequently sprinkled over cold or warm dishes before serving. A typical and quite famous recipe often is insalata caprese(Capri sald): Tomato slices topped with creamy mozzarella cheese and basil leaves, seasoned with highest quality olive oil. Further north, where tomatoes are less flavourful, the salad is often additionally flavoured with the famed aceto balsamico(balsam vinegar). Insalata caprese is becoming more and more popular, even outside of Italy; indeed, together with some fresh white bread, it makes a perfect, light summer meal. I have even seen a Japanese sushi version of it(see wasabi).

The well-known pesto alla Genovese is a speciality of Liguria, the region in North Western Italy where lovage is native to. That paste is made from fresh basil leaves together with extra vergine olive oil, pine nuts, aromatic local cheese(parmigiano, pecorino sardo) and garlic; a dash of ground cloves might be necessary to improve the flavour of basil not grown under Italy's hot sun. Pesto is usually served with Italian noodles(pasta). Besides tasting excellent, pesto is also efficient in preserving basil, even without deep-freezer(although it does keep better frozen).

Unfortunately, pesto is very susceptible to enzymatic oxidation by atmospheric oxygen: Exposed to air, it browns rapidly due to oxidation of its phenolic tannins to chinoid polymers. In this process, its flavour is greatly reduced. Susceptibilty to oxidation is particularly high if the basil has been pureed to much, or if the pesto has been frozen and rethawed. There is no easy way to prevent this degradation: Blanching tha basil leaves does inactivate the phenoloxidases responsible for the reaction, but it also destroys most of the taste. Adding anitoxidants or acids also might help but would influence the flavour themselves. So, the best way is to consume pesto as quickly as possible, and to keep its container closed during most of the meal.

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