I use basil in so many of my recipes that it has become a staple in my herb garden for as long as I can remember. With so many varieties — some spicy, others lemon and citrus, others dark and savory — there’s no shortage of basil ideas for recipes!
Basil’s origins are in the Middle East, Asia and Africa — and interestingly enough also South America and the Caribbean — with our fondness of it’s spicy flavors and scents going back over 2000 years! You can find varieties such as Lemon, Genovese, Purple (doubling as a lovely edible border plant!) Cinnamon, Thai and others from different locale’s. Basil’s strong scent helps its reputation as an insect repellent — as an ingredient in fragrant potpourris — to other practical uses such as soothing, headaches, colds and fevers, benefiting digestion, relieving nausea and stress, and (ahem) constipation, and even as a brightly scented rinse for your freshly washed hair!
In the kitchen, try basil combined with roasted peppers and mayonnaise to brighten drab sandwiches, or blend it into your favorite tomato dishes, add as a savory seasoning to bread dough, infuse in vinegar and oil — and use both the leaves and delicate blossoms as a refreshing addition to cocktails and wine!
Basil thrives on having its leaves pinched and harvested, putting out new growth as fast as it’s harvested. But if you want to have those lovely delicate (and tasty) blossoms, you’ll have to choose — basil leaves lose some of their potency when it’s allowed to bloom.
Nothing can beat fresh, tender basil direct from the garden. But it is a “tender” herb that hates when the outside temperature drops below 50-55 degrees. So, if you live in a cooler climate, or one with short summers, don’t fret — basil grows quite well inside, on a bright sunny windowsill. Then you can enjoy that taste, smell of summer in home-made oils and vinegars, and of course fresh or dried herbs to cook with all winter. You can even freeze them in ice cube trays, then drop the “herb-cubes” into zipper-lock bags to keep in the freezer!
If you want to preserve the flavor of your home-dried herbs, snip some leaves, dry them for about a week and then crumble them between your fingers and sniff. If they’re stored in glass jars in a dark, cool place ant they should keep their flavor for up to a year!
Below, you’ll find information about my favorite basil varieties — Lemon of course, but also traditional Sweet Genovese, that vibrant Purple, and a unique and tasty variety of Spicy Globe.
Sweet Genovese Basil (often called “Italian”)
This large-leafed basil is the most commonly seen variety, with a bright peppery sweet taste. It’s a high yield, sturdy and productive variety, great for beginning basil growers. If you stop pinching it back regularly and would like to let it flower, it will give you small white flowers much loved by yellow finches, butterflies and honey bees.
Genovese Sweet Basil
Basil is a natural complement with beef, delightful with fresh or sauteed onions and roasted red peppers. These savory make amazing generously portioned appetizers or a light lunch.
Pepper Steak Rounds With Wine Horseradish Garlic Crème Sauce
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 whole garlic
1 ¼ pound boneless beef rib steak
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ Tbsp your favorite Dijon or spicy deli mustard
½ tsp crushed Capsicum (red pepper) flakes
¼ cup of your favorite red wine
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small or ½ large sweet onion
3 roasted red pepper sections (fresh or jar — there are many great varieties — but pick a sweet pepper rather than hot)
Crème Sauce Ingredients
½ cup Mascarpone cheese
2 tsp horseradish
4 cloves roasted garlic
½ tsp dried basil (or 1 Tbsp fresh)
½ tsp dried oregano (or 1 tsp fresh — fresh oregano is a strong, fragrant herb — so taste-test with ½ teaspoon before adding more)
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 pinches salt
2 pinches black pepper
1/8 cup of your favorite red Wine
1 loaf French bread
Directions For Vegetables, Beef & Roasted Garlic
Dribble 1 Tbsp olive oil over a cleaned, intact garlic bulb, wrap in aluminum foil. Put on a cookie sheet and roast in a hot oven at 400 degrees (for approximately 40 minutes). Remove and let cool.
While garlic is roasting (and filling your kitchen with a delightful aroma), marinate the steak with the Worcestershire, wine, mustard and pepper flakes in a covered glass bowl or zip-seal bag. Stir or toss occasionally let it sit while you slice your onions and peppers.
Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet at medium. Slice roast peppers and onions into 3-inch strips. Add the onion to the hot oiled pan and sauté until onions start to turn slightly brown and caramelized on the edges (about 20 minutes). Add the roasted peppers and cook lightly for another 10 to 15 minutes.
While onions and peppers are sauteing, place steak on a grill or in a roasting pan for approximately 5-10 minutes per side. This steak cooks quickly, so cook gently and remember that the stake will continue to cook after it’s removed from the heat, so under-cook it a little to allow it to mellow and finish cooking as it rests.
Crème Sauce directions And Assembly
Combine Mascarpone, horseradish, and squeeze out 4 roasted garlic cloves into a food processor (or blender, in a pinch). Pulse a few times but don’t over-blend. Add basil, oregano, lemon juice, salt, pepper and wine, and mix well. Make sure to Store the rest of the bulb in an airtight container (in the refrigerator) for your other recipes (best if used within a week).
Slice French bread into ½ inch slices and toast lightly in oven or on grill (grilling bread gives it a unique sweet smoky flavor).
Slice steak into 1/8 to ¼ inch strips. Spread the crème sauce over each warm piece of bread. Layer with steak and the sauteed onion-pepper mixture.
Though technically an appetizer, these delicious bites can easily be transformed into a great meal by substituting a larger baguette, croissant of sub roll.
A lovely decorative plant, the deep purple foliage of this basil is a lovely addition to your edible or decorative garden. The ruffled leaves are curly and small, graduating to a deep forest green. The ruffled variety can be tricky to grow from seed, so watch for transplants in your garden center.
The purple variety has almost a licorice flavor — quite different from Genovese (Sweet, Italian) basil, with a hint of cinnamon and anise. Harvest liberally by pinching, but if you let a few branches flower you will be awarded with lovely small pink and lavender petals that are delightful little garnishes for desserts and even cocktails.
Try purple basil in spaghetti, both as an ingredient and garnish for roast eggplant and spaghetti, eggs, add to biscuits with bacon and Parmesan cheese, in burgers — be creative!
Another great way to introduce basil and other fresh herbs into your meals is as a side dish of Herb Rice, which goes fantastic with another citrus-accented recipe I’ve recently discovered — Orange Macadamia Rum Chicken.
Orange Macadamia Rum Chicken
4 lg chicken thighs (boned)
2 Tbsp light olive oil
salt & pepper (try white pepper if you have it) to taste
3 Tbsp honey
1 C frozen orange juice concentrate
¼ C orange marmalade
2/3 C chopped and dry toasted macadamia nuts (in a non-stick pan)
2 tsp dry toasted white sesame seeds
¼ C white rum
Combine honey and olive oil in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until it reduces to a syrupy glaze (20 to 30 min). You may need to lower the heat at first if the mixture starts boiling too vigorously or the chicken starts to stick. Stir occasionally.
In a dry skillet, toast the chopped macadamia and sesame seeds over low heat until slightly browned. You’ll know it’s getting close when the oils start to release and you can smell a wonderful toasted aroma. Watch the seeds and nuts carefully, as they can burn easily.
Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees. Pre-heat a skillet on the stove over medium heat and add the olive oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides and place in pan, skin side down. Saute about 10 minutes. Then turn the chicken over and cook another 10 minutes until crispy brown on the outside and liquids run clear.
While the chicken is cooking, into the thickened syrup add the toasted sesame seeds, macadamias and carefully add the rum (watch for hot splattering).
Spoon half of glaze over the browned, cooked chicken and bake uncovered in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes. Then baste the chicken with the remainder of the sauce and continue baking for approximately 10 minutes. For the final step (and to give the chicken a great crispy coating) uncover and bake 5 more minutes.
Try serving this crispy delectably sweet glazed chicken with a side like purple basil rice — which is an easy addition that practically cooks itself. I like to use Jasmine rice (cooked according to the package), then add dried or fresh basil shortly before serving.
Lemon basil has a unique citrus taste that can actually be used as a lemon substitute! Out of lemon zest for your recipe? Try lemon basil! It’s bright, crisp flavor and aroma are a great complement for both savory and sweet dishes.
Lemon basil has narrower, bright green leaves than Genovese Sweet basil, and a vibrant lemon scent. Try it with dill sprinkled over fish, as a component in marinades for shrimp, or pork, sweet and sour vegetable stir fries, …or even cheesecake!
Lemon Basil White Chocolate Cheesecake Drizzled With Lemon Vodka Crème
17 cookies (Shortbread cookies work great, so do sugar cookies if they’re not too thin — experiment!)
one – 8 oz. pkg regular or low fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/3 C sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 lg egg, room temperature
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon zest
¼ tsp dried lemon basil (easy to grow fresh and dry at home. Also, if you can’t find lemon basil in a grocery store try using some sweet basil and extra lemon zest)
¼ C regular sour cream, room temperature
¼ C melted white chocolate (the real baking kind does taste different than white chocolate chips)
½ C Mascarpone cheese, warmed to room temperature
¼ C lemon curd, room temperature
1 Tbsp lemon vodka
Cheesecake by its nature is a rich dish, so this batch makes approximately 17 mini cakes.
Line muffin pans with foil mini cupcake liners and place a cookie in the bottom of each one. (If your cookies are too large, you can grind up the cookies with butter if you prefer, but it makes for a thicker base.) Either way, cookies provides an even moist support for the cheesecake and softens right up when baked.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Beat warmed cream cheese on low until smooth and creamy. If using an electric mixer, use a low speed so too much air isn’t added into the mixing process — which may cause the top to crack. Add the salt and sugar, beat to combine. (Keep the sides of bowl scraped down.) Add egg, beating until mixed. Add remaining ingredients one at a time, beating until just blended.
Spoon batter evenly into the muffin cups, bake for approximately 20 minutes until set. The top should look a little wet and the center should be a little wobbly. Resist the urge to leave them beyond this time, they’ll firm up as they cool.
Remove the mini cheesecakes from the oven and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack. It’s best to refrigerate for at least several hours, even overnight. These little cakes are delicious as they are, but they’re even more delectable with the cream sauce topping that follows next.
Stir lemon curd and Mascarpone cheese together until blended. Add lemon vodka, stir to blend. Then spoon onto center of each cheesecake and enjoy! They can be made before hand and can be kept in the frig for up to a week, and freeze well for 3 to 5 months. These mini-cakes can be frozen with or without the topping. To freeze, place in a single layer inside of a tightly sealed plastic container.
NOTE – Make sure the mini-cheesecakes are COMPLETELY cooled before freezing, to avoid having condensation form on top of the cakes.
To thaw, remove from their container and place on wire racks, to prevent condensation forming and dripping onto the little cheesecakes giving you a soggy result.
Spicy Globe Basil
This adorable little basil has tiny leaves and a very round growth habit — making them look more like a tidy little bush than your average leaf basil. Great for both taste and a decorative border accent for your garden, or as little focal points in pots!
These little ¼ inch leaves mean that you can add them directly to your dishes without chopping. Rub the leaves between your fingers to bring out the scent in your dishes.
This spicy little globe has bright lime colored leaves that are sweet and full of zest, and go great in this salmon and pesto recipe. The fish is chocked full of flavor with the combination of wine and fresh herbs, and served on pasta that’s layered with pine nuts, cheese, and herb laced pesto!
1 C fresh spinach
1 C fresh basil (all your favorites work great for this recipe)
¼ C pine nuts
1 C Parmesan or Asiago cheese, grated
2 garlic cloves
¼ to ½ C walnut oil
Approx. 1/3 box of your favorite pasta (Angel Hair, mixed grain — experiment!)
Cook pasta al dente. Add spinach and basil leaves to a food processor and pulse until they are chopped — don’t over-chop. Add garlic, pine nuts, cheese. Pulse lightly few more times and then blend while adding the oil in until you have a smooth, moist consistency, but not too pureed.
Toss with pasta. Sprinkle with pine nuts.
Herb Spiced Salmon
Two 4-5 oz pieces of salmon (I prefer skinless, it’s milder in taste)
4 sprigs finely chopped fresh rosemary
4 sprigs fresh thyme, strip leaves off stalks
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 oz peach wine
salt and pepper to taste
2 – 3 Tbsp olive or grape seed oil
2 Tbsp butter
¼ C half-and-half cream
Place salmon, rosemary, thyme, lemon juice and peach wine into a container or zip-seal bag. Flip or mix gently so you don’t damage the salmon. Marinate for about 2 hours.
Heat a heavy skillet to medium. When pan is hot, add oil and make sure the oil is hot before adding fish (helps prevent sticking, especially if you’re not using a non-stick pan). Cook for about 5 to 8 minutes per side until it flakes easily. Remove from pan.
For added flavor, after removing fish, add butter and cream to make a light sauce to spoon over the finished salmon. (Optional, but it sure does add an extra flavor and moistness, along with extra — but tasty — calories).