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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Home Grown Basil, Insalata Caprese and Health Benefits

Basil is a popular herb in Italian cooking, particularly in pesto. This fragrant and flavorful herb, a relative of peppermint, is an excellent, nutritious addition to your pasta sauce, pesto's,  soup, or salad. I love to grow a variety of these herbs, this is one of many plants I grow at home. You can grow them in pots, organic soil is best.

An array of flavonoids exist in basil, which help to protect cells and chromosomes from damage. Essential oil of basil has been shown to inhibit the growth of several types of bacteria, many of which have become resistant to antibiotics. This essential oil has been found to inhibit growth of the widespread staphylococcus, enterococcus, pseudomonas, and e. coli bacteria, among others.

Adding basil to your vinaigrette will both enhance the flavor, and ensure that the fresh salad greens are safe to eat.

Basil is also a good source of vitamin A, which helps to prevent damage to the cells by free radicals. Vitamin A also prevents free radicals from oxidizing cholesterol in the blood stream, preventing the cholesterol from building up in the blood vessels.

Magnesium is also present in basil. This essential mineral helps the heart and blood vessels to relax, improving blood flow. Other nutrients found in basil include iron, calcium, potassium, and vitamin C.
The fresh, spicy flavor and scent of basil will wake up any boring salad or soup. Use fresh basil whole, or shredded to add a burst of flavor to your dinner. If you are using fresh basil in a cooked dish, add it towards the end of cooking, so that the oils will not be dissipated by the heat.

Insalata Caprese is a simple salad, using tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, basil, and olive oil.

1/2 pound, fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4 inch thick.
2 large tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick.
1 cup fresh basil leaves.
salt and pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil.
On a serving plate, arrange the mozzarella and tomato around the edge, alternating mozzarella and tomato slices.
Basil leaves, and place them on top of the tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.
Season with a bit of salt and pepper.
Just before serving, drizzle the extra virgin olive oil over the salad.