Basil: Everyone's Favorite Herb!

Basil: Everyone's Favorite Herb!
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Growing and Using BasilIf a person loves herbs, they love basil. It seems to be everyone's favorite herb and the recipes are endless that take advantage of this fresh and spicy leaf. I personally think if you can only grow two plants it should be a pot of tomatoes and a pot of basil. With these two plants and a few basic pantry items you can treat yourself to gourmet faire!

Growing Basil

Basil is an annual, and is easily grown from seed. There are over two dozen types of basil including lettuce-leaf which has large leaves, cinnamon basil and the purple leaved varieties. Basil is not frost tolerant at all, so be sure to plant after the soil has warmed completely. Though it needs full sun, it does need more moisture than some herbs, so be sure to keep it watered; especially in pots. You can bring basil inside as a window herb if you plant the seeds in the late summer in pots and bring inside to set in a bright and sunny window. Every year I grow my basil in a porch box outside my kitchen door. There is nothing better than walking out the door and snipping basil for a dish I'm cooking.

Using and Preserving Basil

Be sure to pinch the tops of your basil plants, and don't let them flower. This will basically stop it's growth. If it has started to flower pinch those off immediately. When you harvest the basil, cut off the stems, and then strip the leaves for your recipe. Be fairly gentle with them, and harvest JUST before you start your recipe. Some herb growers insist on the sweet basil for pesto, but experiment and use whichever variety you have growing.

Basil can be frozen, dried, or preserved in oil. It's delicious however you choose to preserve it. Basil is also available year round in most produce sections. Add leaves to salad or sandwiches with your lettuce, saute at the last minute with almost any vegetable and add to soups. It is also wonderful in herbal vinegars mixed with oregano and thyme.

Basil combines well with thyme, parsley, chives, garlic and oregano. Try it in pea or bean soups and or with vegetables such as eggplant. Basil is easily air dried by hanging small bundles or you can chop and add to water to create basil ice cubes! These can then be stored in resealable bags and added directly to your soups.

Whether you have room for a small plot of assorted basils or one pot, it's an herb worth growing! The following recipes will help you become familiar with using basil. We also have a page on making homemade pesto.

Basil and Bread Salad

12 ounces day-old Italian or French bread
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 pound mozzarella cheese, diced 1/2-inch
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup basil leaves, cut into slivers
12 romaine lettuce leaves

Cut bread into rough 3/4-inch cubes and place in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Pour dressing over bread and toss to mix well. Add tomatoes, pepper, mozzarella cheese, garlic and basil. Mix gently. Arrange romaine leaves on a serving platter and spoon salad over leaves.

Basil Mayonnaise

This wonderful mayonnaise can be used for burgers, sandwiches, or to coat chicken before roasting.

1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

Blend in food processor or blender until smooth.

Basil and Tomato Bruschetta

12 pieces crusty Italian Bread, 1 inch thick
1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
2 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
24-36 basil leaves, torn into small pieces
12 garlic cloves, peeled, and cut in half lengthwise
salt and pepper

Toast bread over a grill or a very hot oven of 425 degrees. Brown on both sides. Remove and brush with oil. In a bowl combine tomatoes, oregano and basil. Place cloves in separate bowl. Serve bread warm and rub clove on bread, top with mixture and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

I also sprinkle and with parmesan cheese and put under the broiler for just a minute to heat top.

Basil Puree

4 tablespoons olive oil
8 cups washed and dried basil leaves

Blend until pureed. Transfer to clean jar. Store in refrigerator. Each time you use it stir and then top with a thin layer of oil. It will keep one year by doing this. This is good on grilled chicken or fish, stirred into soups or mixed with sun dried tomatoes and broiled on bread.

Walnut and Basil Paste

1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
3 cloves garlic, peeled
3/4 cup walnut pieces
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons red wine or herb vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil

Place the basil in the work bowl of a food processor. With the motor running, drop in the garlic and process until basil and garlic are finely chopped about 15 seconds. Add the nuts, cheese, vinegar and oil. Process to make a rough paste, about 20 seconds. Smear evenly onto poultry, fish or vegetables just before grilling. Makes enough for about 2 pounds of poultry or fish.

Basil Butter

1 stick butter, softened
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt
pepper to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped basil

Cream butter, beat in garlic and lemon juice. Mash in basil; season with salt and pepper. Place bowl in refrigerator to firm butter. For a nice, simple appetizer use room temperature butter on grilled pieces of baguette or French bread.

Lemon Basil Pork

1 12-ounce can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1/2 cup basil leaves, cut into thin strips
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic

4 boneless pork chops Mix the first four ingredients. Reserve 1/4 cup of the marinade for basting. Pour the remainder of the marinade over the pork and refrigerate them for 1-2 hours, turning once in the process. Grill them for approximately 20 minutes. Turn the meat often, brushing a small amount of the reserved marinade on each time. You can also cut the pork into cubes and make kabobs, alternating onion and green pepper on the sticks.

Pasta With Fresh Basil

12 ounces penne or other larger pasta
1 cup fresh cooked peas or frozen peas, thawed
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/3 pound lean prosciutto or leftover smoked ham, diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
3 tablespoons capers, optional
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
grated peel of 1 lemon

Cook pasta according to directions; rinse under cold water and drain. In a bowl, combine the pasta with the peas, green onions, prosciutto, basil, olive oil, vinegar, capers, pepper, salt, and lemon peel. Toss until well-combined. Adjust seasonings to taste. Refrigerate until serving. Notes: This is such an easy salad and you can substitute fresh green beans that have been cooked until just tender or asparagus. Fresh is much better if possible. Also you can substitute red onion for the green.

Baked Zucchini and Basil

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 lbs zucchini (about 5 small), thinly sliced lengthwise
3 large Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 large sweet onion, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
1 tsp. salt
Ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with a little olive oil. Layer in half the vegetables and basil. Season with salt and pepper. Add the remaining vegetables and basil and season again with salt and pepper. Drizzle the remaining oil on top. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 1 hour. Uncover, add the cheese if desired, and bake 10 minutes longer. Let stand at 15- 20 minutes before serving. Notes: I think this is much better using a glass or other non-metal pan.

Basil Chicken Salad

1 cup leftover grilled Chicken Breast, diced
1 cup cooked rice
1/2 cup Red Grapes, halved
1/2 cup mayonnaise, light or regular
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped sweet onion
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Combine all ingredients and chill thoroughly. Recipe makes 4 servings.

Easy Pesto Pizza

One premade pizza crust
2 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves
4 cloves of fresh garlic, thinly sliced
olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup finely shredded mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper

Lay whole basil leaves over the surface of the crust, covering the entire pizza. Place the thinly sliced garlic on top of the basil leaves, spacing a couple of inches. Drizzle the olive oil over the entire pizza. Salt and pepper to season. Sprinkle the pizza with the Parmesan, then with the mozzarella. Place into a preheated 425 degree oven. Bake just until it's bubbly and slightly browned. Watch carefully. Serve warm.

Roasted Garlic and Basil Salsa

4 ripe tomatoes, cut into sections
2 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon honey
2 sweet green peppers
2 jalapeno peppers or other hot peppers
2 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 cup torn fresh basil leaves
1/4 of a sweet onion, chopped

Preheat the broiler or grill, Place the halved peppers and tomatoes on a baking sheet and broil until they blacken. You can do the same thing by placing them on a grill. Place the unpeeled garlic in a foil pouch (doubled) and drizzle with the olive oil. Either bake in the oven at 300 degrees for 30 minutes or cook on the grill, turning the foil pouch as it cooks. Meanwhile remove the peppers from the oven and place them in a bowl and cover with plastic or place them in a Ziploc bag and seal. Allow to cool to room temperature. Peel skin off of blackened vegetables and discard. Dice into one inch pieces. Once your garlic is cooked, slit the ends of the cloves, and smush out the garlic into the bowl with the peppers. Add the remaining ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste. This salsa may set out for a couple hours at room temperature to join the flavors, or you can refrigerate for 2-3 days.

Basil and Gorgonzola Salsa

2 cups tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped green pepper
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup grated gorgonzola cheese
1/4 cup snipped fresh basil
1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or regular)

Combine ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until needed. You can substitute another type of blue veined cheese.

Pasta and Basil Salad

3/4 cup uncooked spiral pasta or small shells
4 medium tomatoes, cut into thin wedges
5 green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup thin slices of seeded cucumber
1 cup fresh corn kernels
1 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup plain yogurt
3 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 garlic cloves, peeled

Cook pasta according to instructions until just tender. Rinse under cold water. Drain well. Place the pasta in a large bowl. Add tomatoes, green onions, cucumber and corn. Combine basil, yogurt, mayonnaise, lime juice and garlic in processor or blender until basil is finely chopped. Mix dressing with the pasta mixture and toss to coat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve or cover and refrigerate.


About The Author

Brenda Hyde is a freelance writer living on ten acres in rural Michigan with her husband and three kids. She is a mom, grandma, gardener, cook and writer. She blogs on all of these topics at


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