Basil: The Official Herb of Summer

July 25, 2013

Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.

Today: Herbs are the unsung stars of summer produce -- we all have our favorites, but it’s pretty hard to beat basil. 

Get Down & Dirty with Basil, from Food52

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Should you happen into battle with a basilisk, hopefully you’ll have a bunch of basil in your pocket -- it’s said to be the only cure for a basilisk bite. We’re not sure about that, but we do know that a handful of basil can magically elevate even the simpliest summer dish. There are over 40 varieties of basil, each with different colored leaves, textures, and flavors -- some even have a hint of lemon, lime, cinnamon, and even green pepper. Hungry yet? 

Basil is related to mint -- it has the characteristic square stem that runs in the family -- and like mint, basil can help aid digestion (you’ll sometimes find it in tea). It's sometimes recommended for headaches and anxiety too, due to its mild sedative effects. If you’ve ever grown basil, you know it loves sunshine and hot weather, and is an easy addition to your garden. Though you wouldn’t know it from the French expression for sowing basil -- semer le basilic -- which can also mean ranting and raving. This is likely thanks to the Romans, who thought that basil would only grow well if it was planted while shouting and cursing. If you try this, let us know if it works. 

Basil chiffonade, from Food52

How to Store and Prep
Basil doesn’t like to to be refrigerated -- it'll turn brown before you know it. Your best bet is to store basil in a glass of water on a sunny spot of your counter. Keep the leaves out of the water, and cut the stems right before you put them in the water. Bon Appétit recommends the addition of a loose plastic bag over the top to up the moisture level. 

Many recipes call for a basil chiffonade, a term that sounds more complicated than it really is: simply stack up a pile of basil leaves, roll them lengthwise as tightly as possible, and then slice the roll crosswise (1) creating thin strips of basil.

Down & Dirty with Basil, from Food52

How to Use
Basil is at home in a wide variety of dishes and pairs perfectly with summer vegetables. Basil and tomatoes are one classic combo, whether in a salad, a soup, or a sauce. Add basil to dips like guacamole, too -- raw or grilled. Try basil in pesto, a flavored oil, or salad dressings (like a creamy ranch or a vinaigrette). Basil can even liven up your desserts: add it to ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, or candied for a fancy garnish. And don’t forget about basil in your beverages, whether in lemonade, or something a little stronger. Ready to use herbs with wild abandon? We’ve got a week’s worth of basil-packed dishes for you to try.

Friday: Lemon Basil Sherbet 
Saturday: Corn, Goat Cheese, Basil, and Lemon Tart with Basil and Lemon Oil 
Sunday: Wild Berry Basil Panna Cotta 
Monday: Pasta with Tomatoes, Garlic, Basil, and Brie 
Tuesday: Zucchini with Basil, Mint, and Honey 
Wednesday: Basil and Toasted Walnut Bread  
Thursday: Peaches Poached with Basil 

Photos by James Ransom

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Michael Villar
    Michael Villar
  • Patricia Laure
    Patricia Laure
  • Leslie Kaplan
    Leslie Kaplan
  • Hippy in the Kitchen
    Hippy in the Kitchen
  • Kenzi Wilbur
    Kenzi Wilbur
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


Michael V. July 26, 2013
In most any pizza or pasta dish that I make. Also, with most of my summery gin cocktails. A little ginger, cucumber, lemon, basil and a strong pour of bombay sapphire. Good times.
Patricia L. July 26, 2013
I love making basil salt!
Kenzi W. July 26, 2013
Tell us how! That sounds like something I want to do this weekend.
Lindsay-Jean H. July 26, 2013
Ooh good idea! I once had a margarita with a basil salt rim that I might need to recreate this weekend.
Leslie K. July 25, 2013
I use them generously in a baked sweet potato, garlic, olive oil with a pinch of Himalayan Salt dish. Everything is chopped up with the basil leaves tossed in (all organic of course) and baked (glass baking dish) for 35 minutes until ready. Delish!
Hippy I. July 25, 2013
We cut fresh leaves and layer them in single layers , in layers of salt . They remain soft and retain all of their flavor. We put them in containers that look like glass loaf pans and put a toothpick under the lid for a little air.