Use Your Basil Bounty

The season's most versatile herb enlivens dishes from classic (pesto) to contemporary (sorbet?!). Use it with abandon.

Three types of basil

Randy Mayor

Best Bets with Basil

There are more than 60 types of basil, all members of the mint family. Here are three you’re most likely to see at gourmet groceries, farmers’ markets, and nurseries.

  • Purple Opal (top): Its large, dark purple leaves offer mildly spicy hints of clove, licorice, mint, and cinnamon. Best uses: Its complexity shines in salads, baked goods, and beverages.
  • Thai (bottom right): Small, pointed leaves with serrated edges have peppery anise flavor. Best uses: A hint of spicy heat makes this basil at home in Asian dishes.
  • Sweet Italian (left): This selection (aka Sweet Genovese) is the most common variety of basil, known for its licorice-clove flavor. Best uses: Its clean, bright flavor makes it an ideal match for fresh tomatoes, or use it in Italian or Thai dishes.

Purple Basil Lemonade

Randy Mayor

Purple Basil Lemonade

Purple basil's mildly spicy flavors―think clove, licorice, mint, and cinnamon―adds a layer of complexity to this super-easy lemonade. For best results, crush the basil with sugar in a mortar and pestle to release its fragrant oils. Or, if you don't have a set, process the basil, sugar, and about 1/4 cup of the water in a food processor or blender.

Works best with: Purple basil

View Recipe: Purple Basil Lemonade

Basil Parmesan Dip with Pita Chips

Randy Mayor

Basil Parmesan Dip with Pita Chips

The toughest thing about this simple summer snack? Toasting the pita chips (bake at 375 degrees for 12 minutes or until perfectly crispy). The rest is a snap: process fresh basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, lemon juice and sour cream with a touch of salt and pepper.

Works best with: Sweet Italian or lemon basil

View Recipe: Basil Parmesan Dip with Pita Chips

Sicilian Pesto

Randy Mayor

Sicilian Pesto

Pesto may seem like the most obvious use for basil, but this version has a Sicilian twist. In Sicily, the locals spice things up with crushed red pepper and chopped tomatoes. We bet you'll love their saucier version.

View Recipe: Sicilian Pesto

Phyllo Pizza with Feta, Basil, and Tomatoes

Randy Mayor

Phyllo Pizza with Feta, Basil, and Tomatoes

Frozen phyllo dough provides an interesting alternative to thin-crust pizza, with a feather-light crunch that makes this dish heavenly. Make it as a summery appetizer with a glass of wine, or pair it with a salad for a light supper.

Wine note: A good wine for this dish won't overwhelm the delicate phyllo but will stand up to the salty cheeses and fresh basil. Try Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc Reserva from the Casablanca Valley of Chile. (The 2008 is $11.)

View Recipe: Phyllo Pizza with Feta, Basil, and Tomatoes

Lime Basil Sorbet

Randy Mayor

Lime Basil Sorbet

This easy, cool summer treat ends any meal with a clean, refreshing, citrusy note. You only need four ingredients: limes (about 15), light corn syrup, sugar, and basil leaves. Tip: A traditional salt and ice electric freezer works best for this sorbet, as opposed to a tabletop freezer, which won’t freeze the mixture firmly enough.

Works best with: Sweet Italian or lemon basil

View Recipe: Lime Basil Sorbet

Purple Basil Parmesan Biscuits

Randy Mayor

Purple Basil Parmesan Biscuits

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and purple basil provide a fresh twist on buttery biscuits. Tender-biscuit tip: Make sure to use chilled butter, and stop cutting the butter into the dough when the mixture has pea-size nuggets.

Works best with: Purple or sweet Italian basil

View Recipe: Purple Basil Parmesan Biscuits

Spicy Basil-Beef Salad

Photo: Randy Mayor

Spicy Basil-Beef Salad

If regular Italian–or Genovese–basil is all you can find, it'll work fine. However, it's worth searching out a few varieties, such as purple, Thai, or lemon basil. Using a mix of varieties improves the salad by adding visual interest and nuanced flavors. If you can't find hanger steak, substitute flank instead.

View Recipe: Spicy Basil-Beef Salad

Classic Pesto

Photo: Oxmoor House

Classic Pesto

This flavorful pesto recipe is made from the freshest ingredients garlic, pine nuts, and basil. Classic pesto goes well pasta, pizza, bruschetta, and can be added to soups or omelets. Make extra batches so you'll have enough to last awhile.

View Recipe: Classic Pesto

Grilled Lemon-Basil Tofu Burgers

Photo: Oxmoor House

Grilled Lemon-Basil Tofu Burgers

Marinated tofu slices acquire a golden crust when grilled; the olive-garlic mayonnaise on the sandwich adds a Mediterranean flavor. Serve with grilled asparagus.

View Recipe: Grilled Lemon-Basil Tofu Burgers

Spicy Thai Basil Chicken

Photo: John Autry

Spicy Thai Basil Chicken

Lettuce wraps make for a fresh burst of crunch and flavor, or spoon the stir-fry over rice. Look for fish sauce in your grocery store's Asian foods section.

View Recipe: Spicy Thai Basil Chicken

Cherry-Grapefruit Basil Sorbet

Photo: John Autry

Cherry-Grapefruit Basil Sorbet

Fresh basil pairs wonderfully with the sweet-tart citrus and deep cherry flavors in this elegant sorbet. Garnish the scoops with small basil leaves, if you like.

View Recipe: Cherry-Grapefruit Basil Sorbet

Field Pea and Purple Basil Succotash

Photo: John Autry

Field Pea and Purple Basil Succotash

Substitute lima beans if field peas aren't available. We love the contrast of deep purple basil, but you can use any fresh basil with delicious results.

View Recipe: Field Pea and Purple Basil Succotash

Apricot, Cucumber, Pluot, and Lime Basil Salad

Photo: John Autry

Apricot, Cucumber, Pluot, and Lime Basil Salad

If you don't have lime basil, substitute any fresh basil plus 1/2 teaspoon grated lime rind. Plums will also work in place of pluots.

View Recipe: Apricot, Cucumber, Pluot, and Lime Basil Salad

Sweet Basil Martini with Blue Cheese Tomatoes

Photo: John Autry

Sweet Basil Martini with Blue Cheese Tomatoes

Use neutral vodka for more basil flavor.

View Recipe: Sweet Basil Martini with Blue Cheese Tomatoes

Grilled Chicken Thighs with Thai Basil Salad

Photo: Johnny Miller

Grilled Chicken Thighs with Thai Basil Salad

A mix of Thai basil and sweet basil makes for a satisfying aromatic salad with no lettuce "filler." Cucumber and shallots offer a bit of crunch. If you can't find Thai basil, use whichever variety you can find. Look for explosively hot Thai chiles at Asian markets, or use serranos.

View Recipe: Grilled Chicken Thighs with Thai Basil Salad

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