The histories and origins of Chef Mario Batali’s favorite ingredients are as interesting and complex as the flavors they bring to the recipes in which they are used. This month, Mario opens up about the beauty of Bush Basil from the region of Liguria, located in the northwest corner of Italy, bordering France. It is wonderfully fragrant and deliciously sweet and perfect for pesto or your favorite pasta dish.
Bush Basil is a dwarf plant with tiny fine, glossy leaves. Very compact and sturdy, Bush Basil has an almost bonsai-like appearance and its aroma has hints of cinnamon, clove and anise. It is the preferred variety of basil to use when making pesto, especially in Liguria, and Ligurians almost make a religion of their devotion to pesto sauce and its main ingredient, fresh basil.
Every June in Andora on the Ligurian coast there is an herbs festival, in which local nursery owners display and sell their plants and herbs in the parks and streets. Especially popular is the Ligurian pesto – made from the ample supply of basil growing rampant in this region. There is a saying that he who eats pesto never leaves Genoa, the stronghold of this delicious sauce, rich with the flavors of fresh basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, and cheese. Traditionally, the ingredients are put in a mortar and pounded with a pestle until a smooth sauce emerges.
Pesto is popular throughout the world, but small-leafed Ligurian basil, grown in herb gardens buffeted by sea breezes, is arguably the best in the world.
Bush Basil can usually be found in the produce sections of specialty grocery stores or at local farmer’s markets.
The region of Liguria is little more than a salty rim of the northern Mediterranean where the Apennines shelter the coast from the chilly European winter. The pine trees and dairy sheep of the mountains offer nuts and cheese, the slopes above the sea the delicate olive oil, and the precious strip of arable coastline the intensely perfumed herbs.
Fragrant and flavorful are two adjectives that come to mind when trying to conjure up the effusive, magical quality of Liguria. Blessed with 220 miles of coastline and surrounded by mountains, the region’s sweet-smelling breezes carry the life-affirming scents of the sea, herbs, flowers, and pine trees.
Get more of THE DETAILS: