Minty-herbal fresh basil hits its stride come late spring and keeps growing strong all summer long. While we can't get enough of classic preparations like pesto, there are so many more ways to make the most of it. From light salads to crisp fritters, refreshing cocktails, and beyond, we've got 27 ways to transform a garden's worth of basil into something unforgettable.
Classic Caprese Salad
A good Caprese salad depends entirely on the strength of its ingredients—there's no fancy technique or seasonings to hide them, so it's imperative that you use the best you can find. That means water-packed fresh mozzarella, ripe and juicy tomatoes (in season only, and preferably from a farmers market or a nearby backyard), and leaves of just-picked basil. Drizzle with good-quality olive oil, sprinkle lightly with a crunchy coarse sea salt, and you're done.
Mediterranean Chopped Salad With Tomatoes, Peppers, Feta, and Basil
Like the Caprese, this 30-minute, seasonal Mediterranean salad is basic, but can be incredibly satisfying if you invest in your ingredients. If you've got ripe cherry tomatoes (which, luckily, tend to be better year-round than larger tomatoes) and fresh basil, you're already halfway there. Salt your vegetables in advance to draw out the liquid and prevent your salad from getting watery.
Fig, Melon, and Spanish Ham Salad With Basil
Who wants to spend their summer days slaving away in the kitchen? Not us. This four-ingredient dish (okay, six ingredients, if you count olive oil and salt) is one of several fast, simple recipes we've designed to make your summer eating a little easier. Of course, because the ingredient list is so sparse, it helps to source the best ingredients possible: juicy Black Mission figs, salty Spanish ham, the most intensely sweet melon, and fragrant basil leaves to scatter over it all.
Fingerling Potato Salad With Aioli, Pesto, Fried Shallots, and Pecorino
This summery fingerling potato salad, flavored with homemade aioli, basil pesto, fried shallots, and Pecorino-Romano, is packed full of contrasts that come together into the perfect side dish for a cookout. Adding extra oil to the pesto results in a saucier texture, coating the potatoes more thoroughly.
Watermelon, Lychee, Feta, and Basil Salad With Spicy Lemongrass Vinaigrette
In this variation on the more ubiquitous watermelon, feta, and mint salad, we combine sweet, juicy watermelon with syrupy lychees, tangy feta, minced shallot, and basil. A nice savory vinaigrette with a hint of heat from Thai chilies, a touch of lemongrass, and a drop or two of soy sauce balance out the sweetness of the fruit.
Marinated Mozzarella, Cherry Tomato, and Basil Salad
If the mozzarella you can get your hands on isn't quite Caprese-worthy, marinating it in olive oil can be an easy way to perk it up. Here, we let cherry-sized mozzarella balls (ciliegine) soak with extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil, salt, and pepper for at least half an hour, then toss them with sweet cherry tomatoes (again, more reliably flavorful throughout the year than large tomatoes) and balsamic vinegar. Use golden or white balsamic if you can find it, to avoid staining the mozz, but regular balsamic will also work just fine.
Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad With Cucumbers, Red Peppers, and Basil
A little spicy, a little sweet, and a little salty, these chewy Chinese noodles, mixed with cucumbers, peppers, and scallions and coated in a chunky peanut sauce, make an incredibly tasty, filling meal that's tailor-made for summer. We like our version lighter on the noodles than most—in fact, think of it more like a vegetable salad with a few noodles thrown in for textural contrast. A handful of fresh basil rounds out the flavors.
Appetizers, Soups, and Sides
Grilled Cremini Mushrooms Stuffed With Basil and Parmesan Mayo
Need a simple cookout appetizer or side, fast? It doesn't get much quicker or easier than these stuffed cremini mushroom caps, grilled until tender and filled with a flavorful mayo. The mayonnaise provides a creamy contrast to the meaty mushrooms, and this version—seasoned with basil, Parmesan, and garlic—is herbal, with a pleasantly salty bite.
Easy, Summery Zucchini-Basil Soup
Zucchini and basil are two common summer-garden plants with a tendency to get wildly prolific; if you've got a lot of both, why not combine them? This vividly green soup is an easy way to do just that. Cooking the zucchini until it's tender enough to blend takes only about 10 minutes, so the fresh, green flavor of the vegetable is preserved. Once you've softened the squash, along with mildly flavored leeks, garlic, celery, and basil, blend it all with another handful of fresh basil (incorporating the herb both cooked and raw helps to maximize its heady aroma and spicy flavor) using an immersion blender, and your soup is ready.
Braised Eggplant With Garlic and Basil
Along with many other Southeast Asian cuisines, Taiwanese cooking evinces a love for basil. Savory, spicy, slightly sweet, and profoundly refreshing, this dish of eggplant braised until meltingly soft is satisfying enough to elevate it from a mere side dish to an easy (and fast!) vegetarian main course. Slender Asian eggplants are preferable to globe eggplants if you can find them.
Zucchini Latkes With Parmesan, Pine Nuts, and Basil
Zucchini makes a great latke base (even well outside of latke season), and shredding it in a food processor ensures a hearty, consistent size and shape. Chopped basil and lemon zest help that light, grassy quality shine, while pine nuts and Parmesan cheese give the latkes a pesto-inspired twist.
Stir-Fried Snap Peas and Mushrooms With Fish Sauce and Basil
Basil makes an unexpected addition to a quick, easy side of snap peas and mushrooms. The sweet, crunchy peas take on a hint of smoky char from the wok, while the mushrooms counterbalance them with their savory flavor and tender texture. Finish with a simple sauce of fish sauce, sugar, and lime juice, add a handful of chopped basil, and you're good to go.
Pastas and Sauces
The Best Pesto
Pesto may be a no-brainer when you're facing a glut of basil, but that's no excuse for leaving this summer delicacy off the list. Though it's more labor-intensive than using a food processor, we've repeatedly found that a mortar and pestle is best for producing a rich, deep flavor and incomparably silky texture. Serve it right away—with pasta, potatoes, and green beans for a classic pasta genovese, if you like—or refrigerate overnight.
Skillet Pesto Pasta With Shrimp and Pine Nuts
Once you've got a batch of pesto on hand, you'll find no shortage of ways to put it to work. Here's one suggestion: Toss it with al dente strands of pasta, snappy quick-cooked shrimp, bright cherry tomatoes, and toasted pine nuts for an easy one-pan dinner. We recommend saving some of your starchy pasta-cooking water in case the sauce needs thinning.
Ragù Napoletano (Neapolitan-Style Italian Meat Sauce With Pork, Beef, and Sausage)
Ragù napoletano is a meaty stew with big chunks of beef, pork, and sausage, simmered until fall-apart tender in a rich tomato sauce flavored with wine, onions, garlic, fragrant basil, and plenty of good Southern Italian olive oil. Served over ribbons of sturdy pasta, it's the perfect dish for a lazy Sunday with family or friends at home.
Juicy Turkey Burgers With Sautéed Tomatoes, Basil, and Ricotta
"Turkey burger" may not translate to "flavor bomb" in your mind, but these quick and tender burgers get a huge boost from the incorporation of fresh cilantro and garlic into the raw meat, plus a topping of pan-sautéed tomatoes, melted shallots, ricotta cheese, and fresh basil. Serve them on toasted buns for a delicious 30-minute meal inspired by the flavors of Italian meatballs.
Pizza With Cherry Tomatoes, Garlic, Basil, and Mozzarella
Some of the best ways to enjoy fresh basil are also the simplest, and this Neapolitan-style pizza falls squarely into that category. The split cherry tomatoes topping the pie intensify in flavor and sweetness during their brief stay in a hot oven, while the basil singes from the high heat. Because there are so few ingredients at work here, try to get the best possible, including high-quality fresh mozzarella and canned San Marzano tomatoes to form the base layer on the crust.
Thai-Style Beef With Basil and Chilies (Phat Bai Horapha)
Making an authentic-tasting phat ka-phrao relies on the unique flavor of holy basil, which can be difficult to come by in the States. A more accessible and equally delicious alternative is phat bai horapha: beef stir-fried with a powerful homemade chili paste (as with pesto, use a mortar and pestle for best results), with a handful of sweet basil thrown in at the end. Browning the meat in batches allows you to get a good sear, without worrying about steaming or overcooking it.
Dessert and Drinks
Fresh Basil Mousse
It should come as no surprise that basil is a natural flavor for a dairy-forward dessert—we know it pairs beautifully with mozzarella, so why not sweet cream? What's a little more surprising is how well white chocolate works to complement the herbal flavor of basil, while also adding richness and body to this light and creamy mousse. Served in individual glasses, either alone or with a topping of seasonal fresh fruit, it makes a stunning dessert for company.
El Derby Ahumado (Basil Julep With Cucumber, Jalapeño, and Mezcal)
Traditionally served on Derby Day, but refreshing all summer long, juleps deserve a spot in your cocktail repertoire. We'll never refuse a classic julep of mint and bourbon, but there's no reason not to experiment. Here, we swap out mint for basil (a close relative) and sweet bourbon for smoky mezcal; muddled cucumber and jalapeño add extra cooling, vegetal, and spicy flavors.
Basil Cranberry Julep
Another variation on the Derby Day favorite, this one incorporates cranberry and basil for a combination that's just slightly savory. The traditional sugar is swapped out for agave nectar, while mezcal serves as the base. When you bring this one to your nose, the scent is all fresh basil, which makes a nice introduction to the flavor combination of tart, fruity cranberry and subtle smoke.
Basil Lime Cooler
Basil and lime have strong, clean flavors, and they make a delicious pair in this simple cocktail. After you've infused a simple syrup with basil, pair the syrup with lime juice, vodka, and a splash of seltzer water—a light and easy drink for an afternoon spent in the sun.
Cucumber and Basil Slush
Cucumber has a way of lending instant refreshing flavor to anything it's added to, while the more assertive flavors of basil and lime spur it on in a cocktail that's cooling in every possible way. Vodka gives this icy drink just enough kick, but not so much that you couldn't have more than one of these in an afternoon.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Bellini With Basil
In this pale-pink brunch cocktail, tart rhubarb and sweet strawberries get a lightly savory, spicy boost from the addition of fresh basil. The result is both sweet and a little tangy, making this a cooling summer porch sipper, especially when topped off with sparkling wine.
Kale Pineapple Basil Smash
Kale doesn't have to be limited to purely healthy smoothies and juices. This cocktail of muddled fresh basil, fresh pineapple juice, kale juice, and rye whiskey tastes delightfully herbaceous and green, but with an edge.
Asian Pear, Basil, and Lemon Juice
The gently floral sweetness of Asian pear complements powerful lemon and basil in this rejuvenating alcohol-free beverage. Juice the ingredients in the order in which they're listed—pears, then basil, then lemon, and finally celery—to maximize the yield: Finishing with the highly juicy celery will help to get more stubborn ingredients, like basil, through the juicer.
There's little comparison between store-bought lemonade and homemade—the latter is not only universally better, it's also endlessly customizable. Here, basil lends an eye-opening herbal quality to the traditional sweet-tart mix, while using honey instead of white sugar adds warmth and depth.