Basil primarily is used as a spice in cooking, although it is versatile and can be paired with a variety of flavors. Some classic pairings include tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, olive oil, and even just a glass of wine in which a single leaf has been allowed to soak. The herb works with different types of meat, such as chicken and turkey, but does not tend to pair well with stronger flavored meats such as beef and venison. In salads, it can be torn into shreds or roughly chopped and added to mescaline mix or sprinkled over romaine lettuce. If the herb has been dried, then it can be used as a spice in thick sauces, tomato sauces, soups and salad dressings.
In classic Italian and French cuisine, one of the most traditional uses for basil leaves is to lay them flat on top of a slice of tomato that has been topped with a slice of buffalo mozzarella cheese and lightly drizzled with olive oil. The combination of tomatoes, olive oil and fresh cheeses with the herb is a popular one, no matter what the actual proportions. Crusty bread, fresh garlic, shaved Parmesan cheese and aged balsamic vinegar also go well with the leaves when fresh.
Many types of sauces can benefit from being paired with basil. One that particularly highlights the taste of the herb is pesto, which is made by placing olive oil, basil, garlic and Parmesan cheese in a blender until a thick, brilliant green paste has been formed. When roughly chopped, the leaves accent tomato sauces, especially when added fresh at the end of cooking, just before serving. Thick gravies — such as those made from chicken, pork or turkey drippings — can have a fresh, slightly sweet taste when paired with finely diced fresh basil.
Chicken, turkey and veal also pair well with basil. One classic Italian dish has basil and sage leaves pinned to the front of a thin slice of veal and then fried until the herbs have crisped and developed flavor. Cuts of chicken benefit from the sweet taste when the herb is used to season the bird's surface and marinades, is placed under the skin or stuffed inside of a boneless cutlet with butter.
Basil leaves also can be deep fried or dried. When deep fried, they make a good accompaniment to hard and aged cheeses, and complement red wine sauces and roasted vegetables. As a dried herb, it can be used to make a variety of sauces or to complement the flavor of other dried herbs, such as parsley, marjoram, sage, thyme and rosemary.