Every year in May, I plant basil because I love it so much. And every year in May, I also apparently forget that basil grows like kudzu. Which leads to planting way too much for one family to consume with the occasional marinara and salad caprese. So every year in June, I make pesto — lots and lots of pesto.
But — tasty and useful as it is — pesto is not exactly a highly creative use for basil. I’m going to get to some more interesting basil concoctions later in this post, but if you, like moi, have an overabundance of basil, by all means, make pesto. It’s super easy. You probably have a recipe, but here’s mine just in case.
- Basil Pesto (not to be confused with “pistou,” which is the basil mixture without the nuts, usually added to salad dressing or used for dipping bread):
Ingredients: 3-4 cups (loosely packed) basil leaves, pinch or two of salt, 1 garlic glove, 3-4 tbs. pine nuts (if you don’t have pine nuts, chopped walnuts work, too, but the pesto tastes a little nuttier and less rich), and 1/4-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil. Grated. Parmesan cheese.
To make: Rinse and dry basil leaves using paper towels or a salad spinner. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the basil leaves, salt, garlic, pine nuts, and 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Process the mixture, drizzling a little more oil in as the machine is running. If you’re going to eat it fresh, add 1/2 cup (or more) grated Parmesan, only stir it in by hand instead of adding to the food processor.
If you want to save the pesto, it keeps in the refrigerator for about a week. Or you can freeze it in small containers or an ice-cube tray. And here’s a great pesto tip: Don’t add the cheese until you’re ready to serve it.
Okay, once you’ve filled every crevice of your freezer with pesto, what else can you do to dispatch with an abundance of basil? Well, definitely throw some in the pan the next time you sautée just about anything. Add some to your salad dressing, pasta, salads, pasta salads, or grilled panini (a grilled cheese with basil is divine, by the way; drizzle with balsamic vinegar or dip it in Summer Tomato Sauce. Mmm.).
Here are a few more recipes for basil lovers. Depending on your basil situation, I encourage doubling or quadrupling these recipes.
- Fresh Herb Vinaigrette
This is one of my all-time favorite sauces. It’s rich and light tasting at the same time. It’s another item I first tried in southern France; it is traditionally made with a combination of tarragon, chives, and parsley. For obvious reasons, I substituted a whole lot of basil for all three. This sauce makes a fantastic dressing for pasta salad or dip for veggies (or bread).
Ingredients: 2 hard-boiled eggs, 4 garlic cloves, salt, red wine vinegar, olive oil, 2 tbs. Dijon mustard, and 1 cup basil leaves (loosely packed).
To make: Separate the egg white from the yolks; set the whites aside. In the bowl of a food processor, process the egg yolks, garlic, pinch of salt, and mustard. While the motor is running, drizzle the vinegar and oil into the mixture. Stop and scrape the sides if necessary. Combine the mixture by hand with the (chopped) egg whites. Add more salt and ground pepper to taste.
- Basil Lemonade
This might sound a little weird, but I promise it’s refreshing and delicious, especially with a scosh, as my Auntie used to say, of vodka). Just so you know, I’m a bit of a lemonade freak. And a total lemonade snob. If you aren’t up to making fresh-squeezed, I highly recommend Santa Cruz organic.
To make basil syrup: Boil 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar. Add 1 cup basil leaves (loosely packed) and let cool. When you’re ready to drink it, add a shot or so of the syrup to each tall glass of lemonade.
- Basil Oil
Remember a few weeks back I was going on and on about the flavored oils at Oliviers & Co.? No? Well, I was. I love flavored oils mixed with a little vinegar on salad, and they also work great for sautéeing. But they are not cheap. So I did some experimenting and came up with this genius (if I do say so myself) use for a LOT of basil. Note: You’ll need cheesecloth for this one.
Ingredients: 2-3 cups (packed) basil leaves and 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
To make: Bring a large pot of water (salted) to a boil. Get a large bowl and fill it with ice water. Put the basil in the boiling water for a few seconds (10-15), then immediately remove it and dunk it in the ice bath for a few minutes until it’s cold. Drain and dry using a salad spinner or paper towels. Cut the leaves into small pieces (Tip: I always use scissors to cut basil; it’s much easier and doesn’t make black marks like knives can).
Put basil and oil in a blender and blend. Refrigerate the mixture for a day or two. Line a small colander with cheesecloth and set it on top of a bowl. Pour the basil-oil mixture onto the cheesecloth to strain. Let it sit for an hour or so to let all the oil drip through. If you want your oil perfectly transparent, you might have to strain it more than once (and don’t squeeze the cheesecloth), but it’s really beautiful just like this. You need to get busy and eat this once you make it, because it will only keep for about a week in the fridge. Dip crusty bread in this with a little coarse salt. To. Die. For.