One of my favorite flavor combos is tomato and fresh basil. Some of the best flavor enhancers are fresh herbs, and these can be found year round at the larger supermarkets.
When I was studying in the south of France, fresh herbs were readily available right from the garden. Our teacher, Simone “Simca” Beck, had rosemary, lavender, basil, tarragon and many other kinds of herbs growing around the estate. The basil was added to a fresh tomato salad which we liked so much that we requested it at each luncheon.
To me, fresh basil means “good flavor,” especially when teamed with fresh tomatoes. I like the following cream of tomato soup made with fresh basil. Of course, it is best when those wonderful homegrown tomatoes are available, but until they are I will make it with Roma tomatoes, which seem to have the best flavor during the off season.
Several years ago a friend and I tried a recipe for pasta sauce that called for fresh sage. It was good but when I substituted fresh basil for the sage, it was much better.
There are several varieties of basil and they all differ in color, height and taste. One of the most popular basils used in our country is the sweet basil.
This herb carries with it a flare of royalty. The French refer to it as “herbe royale” and the word basil comes from the Greek “basilikon” meaning “king” or “royal.”
There are many legends about this interesting herb. Basil is regarded as a sacred herb by Hindus. They grow it near their temples and homes as a protection against the misfortunes of life.
Basil is the symbol of love in other countries. One of the many love stories about basil is that sometimes Italian peasant girls put a sprig of basil behind their ears before setting out to find a sweetheart. There is a feeling of enchantment associated with basil in Romania. It has been said that when a Romanian girl gives basil to her lover, he is hers forever! You single guys had better watch out for those girls with basil.
Cream of Tomato Soup
½ cup butter
1 large onion, minced
6 large fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 cup heavy cream (whipping cream)
Melt butter in a large skillet. Saute the onion until tender but not browned. Add the chopped tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. Cover and cook over low heat until the tomatoes are soft. Don’t let them get mushy. This will probably take about 10 minutes. Pour the mixture into the bowl of a food processor and while the machine is running, gradually add the heavy cream. Continue processing until the mixture is smooth.
Soup is best served slightly warm. A sprinkling of grated cheese over the top adds a nice flavor boost.
(NOTE: One teaspoon of dried basil is equal to one tablespoon of fresh basil).
Email Prudence Hilburn at email@example.com.