Basil and Parsley, How to Use
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: [No name given]
Posted on: October 3, 1998

I am growing basil and parsley but am not sure exactly how to use it or what dishes to use it in etc.

Basil and parsley are the bedrock herbs of any herb garden. These are the most popular and most used culinary herbs in the fresh form. They are so versatile and offer up such sensual flavour and aroma and colour that no herb lover can go without them for long.

Basil is king in the tomato patch. Virtually everything that has tomatoes in it will benefit from a dash of fresh basil. Even lowly canned tomato soup will spring back to life with the addition of fresh-chopped basil leaves. When in doubt, add basil, is a our motto for tomato dishes. Of course, you can add too much, so make sure to develop good basil sense by experimentation and tasting.

An excellent basil on basil is "Basil: An Herb Lover’s Guide" by Tom Debaggio and Susan Belsinger. It covers how to grow and especially how to use, and if covers dozens of varieties and their special nuances of flavour and aroma. For pestos, try "Pestos! Cooking with Herb Pastes" by Doroty Rankin. Both books are available from Richters.

For years parsley was nothing more than a garnish on the side of a plate. A pretty face to excite the gastronome but better left behind for more pedestrian fare, so the convention seemed. But parsley is packed with flavour and health-giving benefits. It is very rich in vitamins A and C and in minerals, and it seems to perk up the digestive system making foods more likely to be digested properly. Now, happily, parsley is just as likely to be chopped-fresh into soups and stews and on vegetables for flavour, colour and aroma. Like the other "fines herbes" of French cuisine, fresh parsley is added late in the cooking so not to lose too much of the flavour, usually added in the last minute or so. It is possible to buy dried parsley (freeze-dried actually), but there is absolutely no comparison to the fresh-chopped version.

Although the curled varieties have attractive foliage and so are popular for garnish, real parsley lovers prefer the plain leaf Italian variety. Its flavour is richer and more robust than the curled types, and the lovely dark foliage is appealing in its own right.

Few people know that you can make pesto from parsley. Most people associate pesto with basil only, but pesto can be based on many other herbs, parsley included. Rankin’s book on pestos has recipes for parlsey pestos.

Like basil, fresh-chopped parsley can be used with abandon. These days gastronomic conventions have fallen like the Berlin Wall and it is okay to use herbs anywhere and everywhere. Do try to be adventuous, with parlsey you will rarely be disappointed. Let your tastebuds and nose and eyes guide you as you experiment.

Is there any ‘sheet’ that tells about what to use which herbs is available?

We have a chart on how to use the common herbs. It is reproduced from a a surprisingly useful Ontario government chart on herbs. The chart is posted on the website in the InfoSheets section.

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