I originally made this recipe way back in 2007 for Weekend Herb Blogging (hosted this time around by its founder Kalyn). I loved how the lemon zest really spotlighted the flavour of basil – an herb that we used to grow at home. As soon as we get another plant I will update this post again to reflect a new pic Funny what a difference new cameras and experience have made in my shots, but it’s always good to see where one came from Enjoy!
Basil is an annual herb of the mint family, native to central and tropical Asia and Africa (some say it originated in India). It is an important ingredient in Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian cuisine. Today it is cultivated commercially in California, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Germany, Israel, Egypt, Morocco, Italy, Madagascar, India and Mexico. It has been grown in areas around the Mediterranean since antiquity, but Britain did not begin using basil until the 16th century. The many varieties of this herb have seeds that can germinate after 10 years!
In addition to its culinary uses, basil is also used in perfumes, soaps, shampoos and dental preparations. In Mexico it is supposed to keep a lover’s eye off others, and is considered a powerful protector in Haiti. During British colonial days in India, magistrates would have Hindu witnesses swear on this holy herb. It is recommended in Herbals for the relief of dysentery, gas pains, nausea, and as a cure for worms and worts.
The ancient Greeks and Romans thought basil would only grow if you screamed wild curses and shouted intelligibly while sowing the seeds. They also believed if you left a basil leaf under a pot, it would turn into a scorpion. Many believed that even smelling the leaves would cause scorpions to grow in the brain! Salome hid John the Baptist’s head in a pot of basil to cover up the odor of it’s decomposition.
Returning to some less morbid uses, in Italy it is a token of love, in Romania if a girl gives a sprig to her boyfriend, they are engaged, and a good Hindu goes to rest with a leaf on his breast as a passport to Paradise.
Well that’s some heady stuff! 😆 I just like it because of it’s slightly anise smell and ‘bright’ taste that perks up everything that you sprinkle it on 😉
Basil in Italian dishes is a marriage made in heaven, and fresh basil simply can’t be beat. I decided to try the following recipe, of Pasta with Basil, Tomatoes and Lemon Zest, with the extremely delicious Mushroom Taglietelle that had been sent to me from Eva of Myra’s Kitchen. It takes only minutes to put together and the end result is bursting with flavour, satsfying, and, with primarily fresh ingredients undeniably, healthy!
Pasta with Basil, Tomatoes & Lemon Zest
4 big ripe tomatoes (1-1/2 lbs), coarsely chopped
zest from 1/2 lemon (yellow part only, none of the white) in 1-inch slivers
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
1-2 teaspoon salt
black pepper, freshly ground
spaghetti to serve
1. Put a tiny pot of water on the stove to boil while you start to chop the vegetables.
2. When it comes to the boil, blanch the lemon zest for a few seconds – then drain.
3. Mix together in a large bowl all ingredients EXCEPT the spaghetti. Let it sit for 1 to 4 hours, giving it a stir now and then.
4. When you are ready to eat, cook the pasta according to the package directions, as usual, drain, and add it to the tomato mix. Toss. Taste for seasoning. Serve immediately.
Makes 4-6 servings
This post was originally published May 7, 2007. It has been updated once since then.