Basil is one of the first herbs that many aspiring gardeners attempt to cultivate, and it's no mystery why. It's a must-have for Italian and Thai cuisine, and its particular sweet and musty fragrance and flavor are perfectly at home in salads, topping pizzas, or incorporated into smoothies or lemonade. Plus, yanking a few leaves as you need them from a pot on your windowsill or a bush in your garden is far preferable to buying packaged herbs at the supermarket, then fretting over how you'll use them all up before they start to blacken.
That said, a healthy basil plant can produce shiny, emerald-green, ready-to-eat leaves at a pace that may seem overwhelming. For that reason, it's good to have a few recipes in your back pocket, to be pulled out as your plants flourish. Pesto is a clear winner, and a great way to use up a lot of the stuff. But basil is a welcome addition (and sometimes a crucial one) in so many other dishes. This collection of 22 recipes, for stir-fries, pasta salad, the best Caprese, and much more, is where you'll want to look first when you need inspiration.
Classic Caprese Salad
Hands down, the best possible use for flawless summer tomatoes and basil is a Caprese salad. The main rule of creating one is simple: Use the best of everything. Ripe, flavorful tomatoes and creamy fresh mozzarella are key, to be sure, but the basil is just as important—make sure the leaves you choose are fresh and fully aromatic. Beyond those three ingredients, you need nothing more than top-shelf olive oil, salt, and black pepper.
Classic Panzanella Salad (Tuscan-Style Tomato and Bread Salad)
Unlike a Caprese, the Italian bread and tomato salad panzanella adapts well to add-ons and variations, like this grilled-vegetable panzanella or this spring-y asparagus version. But this is the unadulterated classic: bread cubes, tomatoes, and basil, tossed in a light vinaigrette. Salting the tomatoes first draws out some moisture, which concentrates the tomatoes' flavor; reserve the drained liquid to add flavor and bulk to the dressing. Although panzanella is often thought of as a way to use up stale bread, we've found that fresh bread dried in the oven offers better texture.
Fig, Melon, and Spanish Ham Salad With Basil
Summer weather is all the excuse you need to keep things simple in the kitchen—it's too hot to spend much (or any) time hovering over the stove, and you can build a satisfying meal on the quality of seasonal produce alone. This recipe is a great example. All you need is juicy ripe cantaloupe, sweet figs, a handful of fresh basil, and sliced Spanish ham (we use jamón serrano here; prosciutto would make a fine substitute), the figs adding depth to the traditional combination of ham and melon. Enjoy this as an appetizer alongside a glass of chilled rosé on a warm summer evening.
Mediterranean Chopped Salad With Tomatoes, Peppers, Feta, and Basil
If you've had success growing cherry tomatoes this summer in addition to basil, this salad is an excellent way to put them to use. It's a bright, crunchy Mediterranean salad of bell pepper, tomatoes, chopped basil, and red onion, with tangy feta tossed in. Soaking the red onions in water before adding them to the bowl helps to tame their pungency. As with the panzanella, we salt the vegetables in advance, then incorporate the drained juices into a vinaigrette.
Blistered-Tomato Pasta Salad With Basil
Despite what many pasta salad recipes prescribe, mixing raw tomatoes with cooked noodles rarely brings good results. To make a pasta salad that's truly worth eating, our guiding principle is to treat it more like pasta than like salad: Here, we cook cherry tomatoes in olive oil until they burst, forming a light sauce to coat cooked fusilli, then perk up the salad with a generous handful of fragrant raw basil.
The Best Pesto
There are many worthwhile pesto variations out there, but this recipe stays true to tradition, calling for nothing but olive oil, basil, pine nuts, garlic, cheese, and a bit of salt. Old-school Italian pesto is made with a mixture of Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Fiore Sardo, but because the latter isn't all that easy to find, feel free to replace it with Pecorino Romano, though you'll have to adjust the proportions of the cheeses. Pounding the ingredients with a mortar and pestle is time-consuming, but it delivers flavor that's far superior.
Zucchini Latkes With Parmesan, Pine Nuts, and Basil
Adding shredded zucchini to the typical potato-and-onion base produces latkes that are especially light and tender. The traditional pesto ingredients of basil, pine nuts, and Parmesan complement the subtly grassy flavor of the squash, and lemon zest adds enough brightness to make them perfectly summer-appropriate.
Fingerling Potato Salad With Aioli, Pesto, Fried Shallots, and Pecorino
The powerful flavor profile of basil pesto is a boon to potato salad, which, in its most common form, can often end up bland. Here, we toss cooked fingerling potatoes in pesto and garlicky aioli, then sprinkle them with crispy fried shallots and grated Pecorino Romano, for a potato salad bursting with flavor everywhere you look.
Grilled Cremini Mushrooms Stuffed With Basil and Parmesan Mayo
Ideal for a backyard party, these quick, easy snacks are made by filling grilled cremini mushroom caps with a basil and Parmesan mayonnaise—a versatile, summery spread of homemade mayo flavored with basil, Parmesan, garlic, and anchovies. Its bright, umami, and pungent flavors complement the earthy mushrooms wonderfully.
Juicy Turkey Burgers With Sautéed Tomatoes, Basil, and Ricotta
We generally don't recommend attempting to spruce up beef burgers by mixing in other ingredients—you tend to end up with something more like meatloaf than a burger. But ground turkey, being milder in flavor, is well suited for spicing up with salt, pepper, cilantro, and garlic. We serve these burgers topped with a sauté of fresh tomatoes and shallots, plus creamy ricotta and whole basil leaves.
Pizza With Cherry Tomatoes, Garlic, Basil, and Mozzarella
Pizza toppings don't get much simpler or more delicious than a traditional combination of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil. We layer crushed canned San Marzano tomatoes under the cheese and halved cherry tomatoes above it. The crushed tomatoes form a rough sauce to moisten the bottom crust, while the cherry tomatoes soften just enough to release their sweet juices across the melted cheese.
Stir-Fried Snap Peas and Mushrooms With Fish Sauce and Basil
The key to a successful stir-fry is cooking your ingredients in stages so that the wok stays good and hot. After cooking the mushrooms for this one—we use hon-shimeji mushrooms—set them aside while you stir-fry the other vegetables, since snap peas must be eaten immediately after cooking to retain their crispness. A sauce of lime juice, fish sauce, and soy sauce, plus a handful of basil leaves, finishes off the dish.
Fried Rice With Blistered Green Beans and Basil
Proving that fried rice doesn't have to be a heavy dish, this recipe places the vegetables on equal footing with the rice. We start by frying the rice in batches until it's toasted and lightly browned, then set it aside while we cook a full half pound of green beans until they're deeply charred. Once all the ingredients are in the wok and nearly cooked through, we toss the contents with soy sauce and fish sauce and add lots of torn Thai basil leaves—though you can certainly sub in sweet Italian basil.
Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad With Cucumbers, Red Peppers, and Basil
Much like fried rice, your standard noodle salad is heavy on the carbs, with a few vegetables sprinkled in, apparently for decoration. We flip the ratio here, incorporating a bounty of fresh veggies: bell pepper, cucumber, bean sprouts, scallions, chilies, and basil. Made from peanut butter, soy sauce, chili paste, and lime juice, the sauce provides the perfect balance of sweet, salty, spicy, and acidic flavors, and makes a nicely rich complement for the lightened-up salad.
Thai-Style Beef With Basil and Chilies (Phat Bai Horapha)
Making a traditional version of phat ka-phrao in the States is nearly impossible, since the spicy holy basil used to make it is extremely scarce here. Fortunately, using Thai basil yields equally delicious results in the form of phat bai horapha. We use a mortar and pestle to pulverize garlic and hot Thai chilies along with palm sugar and fish sauce; the resulting intensely flavored paste is stir-fried along with strips of steak and tons of Thai purple basil.
Braised Eggplant With Garlic and Basil
This incredibly simple eggplant dish is one of my personal weeknight staples. Slice up a couple of long, slender Asian eggplants; braise the pieces until they're tender in a mixture of water, soy sauce, sugar, and chili bean sauce; toss in a handful of fresh Thai basil leaves; and eat. Serve over rice and you have dinner in just 20 minutes.
Peach Basil Kefir Smoothie
Kefir adds a pleasant tang to sweet summer peaches and basil in this refreshing drink. As we've mentioned before, freezing kefir into ice cubes is the best way to chill a smoothie without diluting it. You don't need any additional sweetener for this one, which tastes like a more sophisticated version of peaches and cream.
Asian Pear, Basil, and Lemon Juice
Crisp, juicy Asian pear has a floral sweetness that pairs well with tart lemon, fragrant basil, and vegetal celery in this drink, which is complex without getting too crazy. Pay attention to the order in which you juice the ingredients—by saving the watery celery for last, you can help push the more stubborn components, like basil, through the juicer.
Perfectly plain lemonade is a treat, but it's also a good canvas for other flavors. In this recipe, we blend basil leaves into the drink, then strain, giving it fresh, herbal notes. Using honey instead of sugar for sweetening lends greater depth of flavor.
Kale Basil Pineapple Smash
We're aware that a concoction made of kale, basil, and pineapple sounds like something you'd order at a trendy juice bar, and that mixture on its own would indeed make a healthy post-gym sipper. But add spicy rye whiskey to those earthy, sweet, and herbaceous flavors, and suddenly it's a far cry from breakfast.
Tomato Gin Cobbler With Peaches and Basil
For many of us, the list of familiar tomato-based cocktails begins and ends with the Bloody Mary. But tomatoes can work well in a range of summer-appropriate tipples. Here, we start with a gin infused with sweet tomatoes, made by puréeing the fruit and booze in a blender and straining. We then shake the infused gin with peaches, fresh basil, and a tiny bit of sugar to make a surprisingly tasty drink.
Basil Cranberry Julep
This take on the julep swaps out bourbon, mint, and sugar for mezcal, basil, and agave, with a cranberry syrup added to give it a tart fruitiness. If you're on the fence about mezcal, this may win you over—the basil and the cranberry soften the spirit's impact so that just a subtle wisp of smoke comes through.