Uses for Fresh Basil
Answered by: Yvonne Tremblay
Question from: Patti Lopez
Posted on: September 22, 2003

I have a plant of sweet basil, but I hardly cook with it, what can I use basil in and can I cut it all and dry it? Will it have the same flavor? I don’t know too many recipes that call for basil.

BASIL (also called sweet basil)

Growing: An annual; grow in full sun; vulnerable to frost

Flavor Profile: Spicy, sweet, anise (licorice) and clove-like; flavor changes when dried. Purple basil (opal, ruffled) has a more delicate flavor that is clove-like. Other varieties include cinnamon basil, lemon basil, Thai basil and globe basil.

Uses: Salads, soups, dips and sauces, stews, rice dishes; as part of fines herbes mixture; frequent addition to Italian tomato dishes; excellent in red lentil soup, gazpacho, ratatouille. Good in omelettes, egg salad, cottage cheese; main ingredient of pesto; great with tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini. Purple basil makes a beautiful red vinegar.

Note: Leaves are very delicate; handle gently; wash and chop just before using.

To preserve your harvested basil, I recommend freezing as this will retain the best flavour. You can simply make a pesto (paste) by pureeing fresh leaves in a food processor with a bit of oil. Freeze pesto in ice cubes trays (remove to freezer bag once frozen) or in small plastic freezer container. You may also finely chop the leaves and place in ice cube trays; cover with water and freeze (depends on how you want to use later). I prefer using the oil methods as the oil protect the leaves better than the water and the flavourful oils in the basil will go into the oil.

Traditional Basil Pesto, made famous in Genoa, Italy, is made by pureeing basil, sometimes a little parsley, garlic, pine nuts, grated Parmesan cheese then drizzling in olive oil to desired consistency. The French have a similar puree (omitting the pine nuts) called "pistou" which adds pizzazz to vegetable soups.

For recipes using basil (Orange and Basil Biscotti, Zucchini Soup, Gazpacho, Panzanella, Tomato Bruschetta, Herbed Chevre Spread, Tomatoes and Herb-Baked Eggs, Vegetable Strata, Fresh Tomato and Basil Sauce, Summer Vegetable Pasta, Ratatouille, Bocconcini with Basil, Herb and Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, etc.), or for making and using Pesto (Pesto Pasta, Pesto Shrimp, Pesto Potatoes, Baked Brie with Pesto and Pine Nuts, etc.), see my book "Thyme in the Kitchen – Cooking with Fresh Herbs" (available from Richters; for preview of book, visit

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