Got fresh basil? Here are the best basil recipes for using that peppery herb, from pesto to drinks to pizza.
Fresh green leaves of peppery basil are one of our favorite things about summer! There’s nothing that evokes the carefree days of summer more (except, maybe peaches!). Adding fresh basil brings an herbaceous hint to any recipe that’s irresistible. Basil is can be used in both traditional and unique ways: from classic Margherita Pizza and Basil Pesto to interesting spins like Peach Crisp with Basil or Basil Strawberry Popsicles. Here are some of our very favorite basil recipes: and a little on how to grow this popular herb!
A list of basil recipes must have a homemade pesto recipe, right? This is our best pesto recipe, resulting in a bright green color and savory flavor. In the spirit of staying on a budget, you can use either cashews or walnuts as a sub for the traditional pine nuts; they’re a fraction of the price and give pesto a fantastic texture. Basil pesto is perfect for using up an end of the season basil plant: it freezes well and you can have pesto all winter long! Want a vegan version? Try our Vegan Cashew Pesto.
At the top of our basil recipes is the Italian classic: Margherita pizza! After falling in love with artisan pizza on our honeymoon in Rome Italy, Alex and I have perfected our homemade artisan pizza over the past 12 years. And there’s no pizza we love more than the margherita. It’s the ultimate combination: stretchy mozzarella cheese, tangy tomatoes, and of course peppery fresh basil, all piled on a chewy charred pizza crust. Here are all our secrets!
What’s a more classic basil recipe than tomato basil soup? This one is oh so easy to make. Chop some veggies, simmer with basil, then blend. All hail the tomato basil soup! It couldn’t be cozier, and it’s perfect accompanied by crusty bread. This version is a gluten free, dairy free and vegan soup recipe, so it fits many diets.
And to round out the must-have basil recipes: how about a caprese salad? This salad represents Italian cuisine at its finest: beautiful ingredients combined in a way that’s both elegant and simple. It's got beautifully ripe juicy tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and peppery basil leaves, seasoned with salt and pepper. Like pizza margherita, each of the ingredients corresponds to the colors of the Italian flag: red, white and green.
Got lots of basil? You don’t have to get stuck in a pesto rut. Try this Basil Vinaigrette! It’s got loads of fresh, tangy flavor: it actually tastes like pesto in dressing form. It’s ideal on salads, especially a summer tomato salad. But the sky’s the limit: use it as a sauce for chicken or seafood, or even to drizzle on goat cheese crostini. The flavor is ultra tangy and it takes just 5 minutes to blend together.
Here’s a dip and spread you’ll want to use on just about everything: basil aioli! This rich, creamy spread is great for making when you have lots of summer basil: or anytime you’re craving fresh, beautiful flavor! This basil aioli is full of peppery, herby flavor: the perfect dip for french fries or spread for sandwiches. Aioli is so easy to make: you just need a handful of ingredients and 5 minutes.
The flavor in this spaghetti is out of this world! The fire roasted tomatoes and peppery fresh basil leaves make for a flavor-popping but quick-to-make sauce. The recipe you'll see is for the Instant Pot, and it cooks in 5 minutes! Don't have an Instant Pot? You can use the same ingredients but do it on the stovetop: simmer the sauce in a saucepan while you boil the pasta, then combine for a quick and tasty dinner!
Here’s a sauce you’ll want to put on just about everything…bright green basil sauce! It’s packed full of garlicky, herby flavor: essentially like a pesto without the nuts and cheese. It’s more intensely packed with flavor than pesto: like a garlic and basil oil. Use it on just about anything a punch of basil: pasta, seafood, juicy ripe tomatoes, Caprese salad…anything is better with basil sauce.
This grilled cheese with tomatoes & basil isn’t just any old grilled cheese. Tomatoes are roasted just long enough until they’re starting to burst, then mashed to extract the juice. It’s mixed with a bit of mayo to become a sort of roasted tomato mayonnaise that totally makes the sandwich! Then of course, you’ll add to that the peppery bite of fresh basil: an essential component that takes it over the top. The combination of the savory tomatoes, silky mayonnaise and fresh basil on crunchy grilled bread is a little bit of heaven.
This tortellini soup with basil is savory and hearty, with a lightly sweet depth that makes you want the bowl to be never-ending. Sauteing the onion with tomato paste and paprika before adding the rest of the ingredients gives just the right complexity to the broth. And a bit of carrot and celery add texture and crunch. Basil leaves are added right after the tortellini cooks, which meld into the beautiful velvety broth. Add a bit of Parmesan cheese and it’s a little bit of heaven.
Basil’s peppery flavor could not be more perfect in cocktail recipes. Here it pairs nicely with the botanical essence of gin in a gin & basil cocktail, a drink made of lime, lemon, gin and muddled basil. It's sweet tart and refreshing, perfect for sipping in the summer. It's one of our favorite gin cocktails because of its herby freshness.
And why not use basil...in a crisp recipe? This peach crisp so satisfying: the filling perfectly highlights ripe peaches, scented with a hint of peppery basil. And the topping is delightfully crunchy, featuring oats and almond flour. It's naturally gluten free and can also be easily made vegan using coconut oil instead of butter! We've made it both ways and it's excellent either way.
This tomato basil gnocchi soup is easy to make and incredibly cozy and delicious. The secret to the creamy tomato basil base is after sauteing onion and garlic, deglaze the pan with white wine vinegar. The tangy vinegar brings out the brightness in the tomatoes. We’ve paired the tomatoes with their best partner: peppery fresh basil, which brings a delightful savory undertone. And the pillowy gnocchi are bites of chewy delight! It’s become a fan favorite recipe.
Pesto is an obvious choice for a basil recipe, but what about bright fluorescent green basil oil? It’s simple to put together, easier and cheaper than pesto, and darn tasty. The basic concept is: blanch the basil by boiling it for only 1 minute. Then plunge it into ice water to stop the cooking and keep that brilliant green color. After squeezing out all the water, blend the basil with olive oil. It yields a beautiful, verdant green sauce that tastes like summer. Use it on sliced tomatoes, as a dip for bread, on pasta, or crostini with goat cheese.
A unique idea for basil recipes is using it in…water! Looking for a beautiful drink for entertaining? Or just a healthy drink that’s an alternative to sugary soda? This fruit infused water recipe has your back for both! That Alex and I love about this recipe is that it looks so stunning — and tastes just as fun — but takes only a few minutes of hands on time. This one features an orange, strawberries, and fresh basil.
How to grow basil
A few tips on how to grow basil at home! Growing your own basil is much cheaper and easier than buying it from the store. Here are a few tips:
You can plant it in pots on a sunny ledge! You don’t even need a garden! Though it’s perfect for a raised bed garden.
Start from “starts”. We recommend buying a start plant at your local farmers market or garden store. Then plant it in a pot with plenty of drainage (or your garden).
Make sure to prune regularly. Regularly remove branches back to the first set of 2 leaves. Pruning the plant makes it grow large and bushy!
Here’s another tip on fresh basil: how to store it! Storing fresh cut basil inside can be difficult, because cut basil wilts within a few hours. Alex and I have a found a great way to store branches of cut basil.
Find a large ball jar and add a bit of water in the bottom: then place the basil stems in cut side down and cover with a lid.
Store in the refrigerator and it will last for 4 to 5 days, instead of just hours on the counter!
In a small dry skillet, toast the nuts over medium high heat, stirring constantly, for about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the nuts to a bowl and allow them to cool slightly. (This step is optional, but brings out a more robust flavor in the nuts.)
In food processor**, combine the nuts, cheese, and peeled garlic. Process until finely ground, 20 to 30 seconds.
Add the basil, lemon juice and kosher salt. Turn on the food processor and gradually pour in the olive oil. Once combined, turn off the food processor. Blend in a bit more olive oil if desired, to achieve a looser texture. Stores for about 1 week in the refrigerator and several months frozen.
*Pine nuts are traditional, but can be expensive. We’ve tested both cashews and walnuts and they have great flavor. Since we often have these stocked in our pantry, we use these variations more often than pine nuts.
**You also can do the same method using a mortar and pestle, adding the basil leaves gradually and crushing them against the sides of the mortar.
Keywords: Basil Recipes, Basil Pesto
Looking for more basil recipes?
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Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.