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December 25, 2006

Basil – The Essence of the Civilization of Man


What would the world look like if there were not fresh basil?


The mind shudders at the question, and produces only one surety – the living would envy the dead.


It is said that if man could harness the power of one person’s good feelings generated by smelling a handful of its leaves, he could banish forever human suffering.


Yet, cruel time – the same great evener that puts us all on the inexorable march towards grim death – robs basil of its greatest gift as the months move on and the leaves dry. In days past, to access fresh basil during the winter months, you had to move yourself to where it itself grows, and some argue that human migration was originally driven chiefly by people following not herds of animals, but where basil still flourished.


Man’s zenith thus came not by putting a man on the moon, but when he invented greenhouses and refrigeration, both of which enabled him to have fresh basil all through the year.


Today, we reap the benefit of these technological marvels, and celebrate them along a variety of avenues. We, however, pay tribute through a chicken breast.


Take your breast and create a pocket inside of it. To look at a chicken breast and never to have created a pocket in one appears intimidating. And, it is important. Your meal is now on the line.


Such responsibility is not to be taken lightly, but relax … here is a handy tip. Work with the breast when it is just thawing. Not frozen, but still firm.


Lift the top flap. Look inside. If it looks like a tongue-less mouth, you have achieved the general idea. Consider engaging it in a conversation, providing not only your voice, but also the voice of the breast. Do this especially if you are entertaining people who do not know you well, for they will find this highly instructive.


Once you have pocketed the breast, set it aside for a short time. You know what is coming, you know the next step. A pocket is useless unless it is filled – the same that holds true for pants also holds true for food.


Take several fresh basil leaves, and lay them on top of each other. Roll them all up, and slice them into very thin strips. Put this into a small bowl and preheat your oven to 350 degrees.


To this, you will want to add chopped fresh oregano, or fresh thyme leaves, and some sliced fresh hot pepper. Perhaps you are wondering whether dried spices will work. This is a thought you will now banish from your head. Using dried spices here is an insult to the very idea of basil, and your leaves would be well within the bounds of good etiquette to walk out on you. Finally, add a healthy portion of shredded mozzarella cheese.


At this point, you are perhaps wondering whether some kind of vegetable might be added. Mushrooms would add bulk and absorb the flavor nicely. Diced zucchini would also work, as would chopped onion. Fresh, chopped garlic? Good sense advises you to avoid this territory.


Now, yes, comes the fun part. Force feed your spices and cheese to your chicken breast. Ram its mouth full to the point where it is dripping from its lips. If it insulted you during your earlier conversation, you might consider mocking it now that it cannot defend itself. Your guests will again find this highly instructive.


Look at your creation. It looks much like what it will look like when it comes out of the oven. If the idea of a whitish, glossy lump of chicken disgusts you, consider sprinkling some bread crumbs or dried oregano on top. Perhaps you are now thinking of the possibility of offending the basil jammed into the breast.


Do not fret. The basil, if it is aware of the oregano’s presence (and they are separated by a flap of meat), understands that it still occupies a position of greater importance. It may look down upon the oregano with proper disdain.


Cook it for about 20 minutes. A nice long stint in the oven will permit the basil to release more of its juices, which will permeate – if you are lucky – the entire breast. Even those pieces that do not come into contact with the leaves will have a hint of basil-y goodness to them, a reminder of the real reason why man evolved into a farming breed.


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