Basil is so named for basileus meaning “king” in Greek, supposedly because it’s meant to be the king of the herbs. If Leo can be king of the jungle, I guess Basil can be king of the herb garden. Word Wizard states that Saint Basil the Great was also a 4th-century bishop who was one of the fathers of the early Christian church. He “improved the liturgy, organized monastic institutions on basis of work, charitable services, and communal life, instead of asceticism.”
An all-round good guy, although I think Sybil from Fawlty Towers might have a few objections about so canonizing her bumbling husband Basil. Regularly at each other throats, Sybil had no use for his unkempt and showy manner, or his neediness. Not unlike it seems our own garden basil as I debate how little or how much water and attention it needs. And not unlike John Cleese, for best results I have decided to give my basil its space.
There are too many great John Cleese’s Basil bits to list, but here’s one involving Basil and Manuel, where “on those trays” gets mangled as “uno dos tres.” But for me, the best thing about basil is what you can make from it – pesto sauce – which only needs a few leaves to get that unmistakably glorious taste. And in Spain, it’s no surprise that basil (albahaca) does best with a little oil (aceite). Well, actually, a lot of oil. (Note, for a perfect Spanish sounding, albahaca is more like albaca, one of the few words I’ve come across here where a letter is not pronounced in Spanish and is instead gingerly ignored).
|7 basil leaves||7 hojas de albahaca|
|50 g pine nuts||50 g de piñones|
|50 g grated parmesan cheese||50 g de queso paremesano rallado
|1 clove of garlic||1 diente de ajo (literally a tooth!)|
|8 spoonfuls of extra virgin olive oil||8 cucharadas de aceite de oliva virgen|
|½ small spoonful of salt||½ cucharaditas de sal|
Ground the basil leaves with mortar and pestle. Add the pine nuts and then garlic and grind together. Add the cheese and oil and stir. Add the salt. You can also use a food processor to mix the ingredients, but it’s not every day you can use a mortar and pestle. Lightly add to your favourite pasta.
It’s really that simple, and of course you don’t need your own herb garden to make pesto, any basil plant will do, which you can keep in a kitchen window. It may need some attention, but it’s worth it. My only recommendation: go light on the pesto. No need for too much of a good thing.
I have been living on store-bought pesto for decades (always served with fresh steamed vegetables) and swear by its simplicity and wonder. But making basil yourself, you really taste the ingredients, which I have to admit were a bit of a mystery to me before we made our own.
As for whether we need a king and queen of the garden, or a king and queen at all (nudge nudge wink wink, know what I mean, know what I mean*), I’m quite happy to do without. No need for all that pomp and circumstance or indeed so much wasted money. I’ll take my basil and pesto, king of the herb garden and sauces, all without the messy inbreeding. ¡Al ataque! ¡Que aproveche!