Use Your Basil Bounty
The season's most versatile herb enlivens dishes from classic (pesto) to contemporary (sorbet?!). Use it with abandon. By: Joanne Weir
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.
With a make-ahead dough and a simple sauce, this pizza is an option any night of the week. Just make the dough in the morning; then shape it an hour before you’re ready to eat. If homemade dough is not your thing, just buy the premade dough at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods Market and shape it as you would the scratch dough.
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.
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.
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
Made from a simple combination of rice flour, water, and salt, rice paper has about 30 calories per 8-inch round—that's 80% less than the same size flour tortilla. While filling one summer roll, let another rice paper soak.
Red bell peppers are the star vegetable in this stir-fry, a crisp, sweet counterpoint to the serrano chile heat. Use any vegetables you like, but keep it simple; one or two vegetables, plus the basil and chicken, are all you need.
Paired with peppery ginger, the anise flavor of Thai basil gives you a highly refreshing summer sipper. Look for kaffir lime leaves at Asian markets. If kaffir leaves are unavailable, simply omit. This recipe will also work nicely with fresh mint or cilantro sprigs instead of Thai basil.
Dessert vinaigrettes? It's an idea whose time has come. The warm vinaigrette releases an intoxicating perfume when poured over the fresh fruit. Serve within 20 minutes of preparing for maximum flavor and optimal temperature.
Marinated tofu slices acquire a golden crust when grilled; the olive-garlic mayonnaise on the sandwich adds a Mediterranean flavor. Serve with grilled asparagus.
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.
If you have trouble finding shiitake mushrooms, use whatever 'shrooms you have on hand. Sliced creminis would work equally well for this saucy noodle bowl.
Here's a twist on peach Melba, the classic dessert of poached peaches with raspberry sauce. We turn juicy summer peaches instead into a velvety sorbet spiked with basil and serve it with fresh raspberries for the perfect ending to a summer meal.
A few special ingredients—like freshly baked ciabatta bread or imported Dijon mustard—make a quick, simple sandwich seem like a restaurant treat for a midday meal.
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
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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
This flavorful pesto recipe is made from the freshest ingredients: garlic, pine nuts, and basil. Classic pesto goes well with pasta, pizza, bruschetta, and can be added to soups or omelets. Make extra batches so you'll have enough to last awhile.