After a few years of trial and error, Jack and I can safely say that, as long as you have access to a good sunny spot, growing basil is something everyone can do. More importantly, I think that it’s something everyone should do, especially if you enjoy cooking. Buying those small packets of herbs in the store is far more expensive than growing your own, and I’ve found that when I have basil, thyme, and mint right outside my back door, I toss them onto everything. Growing herbs has become my go-to strategy for making easy meals into elevated ones – a handful of fresh herbs can transform a simple pizza or pasta into something bright, flavorful, and delicious.
Growing Basil – My Best Tips
If you’re thinking about starting to grow basil, here are a few pointers I’ve learned over the last few summers:
- It’s cold-sensitive, so if you’re growing your plants outside like we do, you don’t want to start too early in the season. Make sure you’re clear of any major temperature dips before getting your plantings going.
- Grow it from transplants. If you have a good greenhouse nearby, pick up a few starter plants there rather than growing your herbs from seed. You can also often find transplants at the farmers market. We’ve had success this way – it’s easier to focus on keeping the plants alive than getting them going – and you can start using the leaves much faster.
- Don’t forget to water them – or not. Last year, Jack watered our plants 1-2 times per day. This year, we’ve had SO much rain, we’ve hardly had to water them at all – we actually worried about overwatering from the rain alone! Just make sure the soil around the plant is moist, and if it’s not, water around its roots.
- Pinch off leaves right at the stem so the plant will create branches and produce more leaves. We had two plants last year, and they produced leaves from June-October!
- If your plants flower, pinch them off. This way, the plants will put energy into creating more leaves, as opposed to flowers and seeds. I actually like to eat the basil flowers – try sprinkling them over salads or pastas for extra-concentrated basil flavor.
What are your best growing tips? Let me know in the comments!
How to Use Basil
As I said above, basil is cold-sensitive, so pick it right before you want to use it. Otherwise, store stalks at room temperature in a glass of water. You can also freeze it for longer storage – read more about freezing herbs on page 94 of Love & Lemons Every Day.
When you’re ready to use it, your options are endless. Of course, if you’re looking for basil recipes, pesto has to be your #1. Stir it into pasta, slather it on sandwiches or toast, top it onto eggs, drizzle it over salads, or dollop it onto grilled veggies. Rich, nutty, and bright, it automatically kicks any dish up a notch.
Otherwise, basil goes especially well with Asian or Italian flavors, so toss it into a stir fry or make a classic caprese salad. Here are some other everyday ways to use it:
- Top whole leaves onto pizza.
- Finish pasta with whole or thinly sliced leaves.
- Blend it into sauces.
- Puree it into soups.
- Chop it up to add to a salad.
- Use it to garnish avocado toast.
- Turn it into an ice cream topping! Jazz up vanilla ice cream with fresh strawberries, basil, and a balsamic reduction.
Want more ideas? Below are a few of my favorite basil recipes to get you started.
Basil Appetizer Recipes
Get any meal off to a fresh, summery start by making a basil-forward appetizer. Add it to summer rolls & blend it into a dipping sauce to go with them, puree it into a cool soup, or slide it onto simple caprese skewers.
Sandwiches & Toasts
If you have a few sprigs of basil on hand that you don’t know what to do with, you can never go wrong by topping them onto avocado toast. I’ll also add whole leaves straight to sandwiches or blend them into a creamy spread to make a vibrant, hearty vegetarian sandwich filling.
4. Strawberry Basil Avocado Toast
5. Tomato, Basil & Artichoke Picnic Sandwich
6. Chickpea Pan Bagnat Sandwiches
Pasta & Grain Recipes
You couldn’t compile a list of basil recipes without including a grain and pasta section. We all love pesto pasta, but you can take nearly any pasta dish or grain bowl to the next level by adding a handful of fresh herbs. Here are just a few of my favorites.
9. Orzo with Lemon, Herbs & Summer Vegetables
10. Vegetarian Spaghetti Bolognese
Pizza Basil Recipes
Fresh basil is a pizza essential! I like to blend it into pesto to dollop on generously along with the veggie toppings. I also almost always finish pizzas with a few whole leaves. Be sure to add these right before serving so that they don’t get brown and lose their flavor in the oven.
17. Herb Garden Zucchini Pizza
Once you start adding fresh herbs to your salads, you won’t look back. They add delicious, intense, and unexpected notes to any combination of fruits & veggies. In each of the recipes below, the addition of fresh basil leaves makes the final salad really shine.
19. Watermelon Salad with Feta
20. Cherry Tomato Couscous Salad
21. Spicy Watermelon Tomato Salad
22. Pattypan Squash Panzanella
Basil Recipes for Dessert
With its sweet, fresh flavor, basil is a wonderful unexpected addition to desserts, especially when it’s paired with summer fruits. Try stirring it into the filling of strawberry shortcake or blending it into a berry sorbet. Or keep things simple – just sprinkle it over berries with a dollop of coconut cream.
28. Raspberry Basil Blender Sorbet, page 253, Love & Lemons Every Day
Basil 101: Pesto
- ½ cup toasted pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 small garlic clove
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups basil leaves
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, more for a smoother pesto
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese, optional
- In a food processor, combine the pine nuts, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, and pulse until well chopped.
- Add the basil and pulse until combined.
- With the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil and pulse until combined. Add the parmesan cheese, if using, and pulse to briefly combine. For a smoother pesto, add more olive oil.