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I am thinking of making a Chicken Parmigiana that I found on the Lidia's Italy website - http://lidiasitaly.com/recipes/detail/398. The recipe calls for "1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, shredded."

I am trying to figure out whether this means that (a) I should shred the basil and then measure out 1/4 cup or (b) if I should be measuring a 1/4 cup of whole basil leaves and then shred that.

Is there a significant difference between the two options? What is normally intended?

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See also this question –  Erik P. Dec 13 '10 at 20:36
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3 Answers

Volume measurements of herbs are hopelessly imprecise to begin with; what you actually measure as 1/4 cup depends entirely on how tightly you pack them, how wet the leaves are, even the size/shape of your measuring cup or spoon. When given a measurement like that, you should always treat it as a rough guideline; don't worry about being exact, it's not necessary in this recipe.

That said, what it actually means is that you should measure out the 1/4 cup and then shred them. Another example of this type of language is when you see something like "4 tbsp of vegetable oil, divided" - that always means you measure out the 4 tbsp and then divide into two portions, not measure out two separate portions of 4 tbsp each.

So measure it first, then shred it. If you were supposed to shred it first, it would say "1/4 cup shredded fresh basil leaves" instead. There is an appreciable difference as to how much basil you'll end up with, but again, you've been given a very rough measurement to begin with, so treat it accordingly, and don't worry if you've got a little extra or a little less. The most reliable way to know if you've got the right amount is to simply taste it.

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+1 for using "taste it" as the deciding factor –  zanlok Dec 13 '10 at 19:56
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I'm guessing sometimes writers/editors aren't quite this careful about precise wording. "1/2 cup chopped walnuts" should mean volume after chopping, and I'd think "1/2 cup walnuts, chopped" would mean volume before chopping, but some more careless people might use them interchangeably. All the more reason to go with "taste it" (or smell, or look, as appropriate). –  Jefromi Dec 14 '10 at 16:11
    
@Jefromi: Yeah, I can't vouch for every single cookbook or recipe writer, of course there are going to be some who get it wrong or backwards, and probably some who aren't even consistent across their own recipes! Tasting is definitely one way (and a good way) around this ambiguity, but IMO the best way is to eliminate the ambiguity by using recipes with weight measurements. 250 g of chopped walnuts is the same as 250 g of whole walnuts. –  Aaronut Dec 14 '10 at 16:47
    
Thank you for clarifying the language. The difference between "1/4 cup basil, shredded" and "1/4 cup shredded basil" now makes more sense. –  Rob Dec 15 '10 at 16:49
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Personally, I'd read that as measure first... shred second... There is a difference as shredded leaves will take up a lot less space than non-shredded.

But... regardless with fresh basil (and other herbs) you usually add right at the end to get maximum flavour impact (fresh herbs' flavour will diminish if cooked for long periods of time). Since this is the case, the key part in that recipe "stir in the basil and taste". Add in the roughly 1/4 cup, taste and add then more to get the impact you like.

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Agreed on measure first, shred second (based on the comma in the ingredients list), but shreded vs. non-shreded basil really doesn't make a significant difference in volume. (cheese, however, is a completely different story) –  Joe Dec 14 '10 at 2:57
    
I like the "stir in basil and taste" methodology; that makes sense to me now. I will be sure to do that when I make this recipe! –  Rob Dec 15 '10 at 16:50
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Keep in mind that these quantities aren't even right in the book.

The original recipe called for

"Reach into the garden, and grab a medium handful of basil -- Yeah, that looks about right..."

But cookbook publishers insist on everything being a measured quantity. So very often, the end up making a precise, yet wrong quantity. This is particularly prevalent in recipes from famous chefs and restaurants. The Batali cookbook is notorious for it's screwed up quantities. You see, Mario has never made 4 servings of X in his life. He makes 25-50 servings. Now, divide that "1 head of Garlic" into a home quantity, and you'll probably be wrong.

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This relates to my answer about recipe scaling as well. So often, the reason a recipe doesn't scale up/down properly is because the initial quantities were little more than a wild guess. –  Aaronut Dec 15 '10 at 19:00
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