Basil: The Italian Summer Herb

basil collage  


When a recipe calls for basil, it generally means sweet basil.  The wonderfully fragrant and useful summer herb with an italian geneology.  This herb has a complex flavor; combining clove, cinnamon, camphor, anise, citrus and mint.  Can you taste them all?  It’s much more complex than the label “basil” would lead you to believe.  You can find basil quite readily in your produce section of the corner grocery store and your local garden centers, for planting.  You can find several varieties usually at your farmers markets and a whole plethora of selections in your favorite seed catalogs!


There are many varieties with the traditional sweet basil flavor, and their leaves can vary from tiny to gigantic, from light green to burdundy and from smooth to ruffled.  

Here are some of the different varieties:


Sicy Bush

Dwarf Italian



Spicy Globe


Lettuce Leaf



Purple Ruffles

Red Rubin


Some varieties of basil have very, very distinct flavors such as Lemon Basil and Lime Basil, both have a bright, citrus-like flavor with almost no hint of the tradional sweet basil taste.  Cinnamon basil really does tast like cinnamon and licorice basil and thai basil have a very distinct anise-like taste. Some basil are very camphor like in their smell and flavor and really not suited for the kitchen and would indeed be an “un-welcome” guest when cooking….Holy Basil, African Blue Basil and Camphor Basil.


Basil is a little finicky…it does not like to be stored below 45F…when you do, it turns black.  If you’ve just harvest some or bought a fresh bunch at your farmers maret, stand it in a pitcher of water like a boughet and keep it on the kitchen counter, where it will keep a day or so.  I have found if it is not too hot in your kitchen my basil keeps in this manner for almost a week.

Basil Tips:

  • Basil is best left quite coarsely chopped or even torn to pieces.  When cutting it use a very sharp knife so that you don’t bruise it.
  • When adding basil to a cooked dish, at it at the very end.
  • Don’t plant basil in your garden until night time temps are above 60F and stay that way. Plant at least 6-10 plants for a abundant, continuous harvest.
  • Basil likes loose soil, but will grow best if given more water and ferilizer than your other herbs.  If you grow tomatoes treat your basil in the same manner.
  • Basil is an annual herb.  It’s ultimate goal is to grow, bloom and set seed.  Once it does this, it will stop leaf production.  In order to keep the plants producing leaves all summer long, its important to keep them from flowering.  To begin with, when the plants are young, pinch off the top set of leaves every week to encourage branching.  When the plants mature, cut the branches back when they form buds at the top.  Its better to cut an individual plant down quite far than to cut the top one or two leaf pairs of the each stem.  The plant will grow back in a couple of weeks.
  • Some of the specialty basils, like cinnamon and lemon are particularly determined to flower and at some point you just have to let it go and bloom!

This time of year in our area, we have an abundance of basil and tomatoes!  One of my very favorite ways to each both are with each other…layered slices of each with a drizzle of olive oil on top and cracked pepper with pink sea salt!  What a lovely lunch!  Below I have included a couple more recipes perfect to use up those fresh summer tomatoes and basil!

Grilled Pesto Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Heirloom Tomatoes

Grilled Pesto Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Heirloom Tomatoes


  • 2 C. Basil leaves
  • 3 TBSP pine nuts (or walnuts in a pinch)
  • 1 Clove garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp Pink Sea Salt
  • 1/4 C. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/4 C. Finely Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 4 Boneless, skin-on chicken breasts
  • Pink Sea Salt, Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 TBSP Olive oil
  • 1 pint fresh cherry tomatoes OR 2 thickly sliced heirloom tomatoes
  • 1/2 C coarsely torn Basil leaves


  1. Making Pesto:
  2. 1. Pulse the basil, pinenuts, garlic, and salt in a food processor until they turn into a coarse puree.
  3. 2. With motor running, pour in 1/4 C olive oil. Stop the machine; add cheese, continue processing until incorported, mixture should have some texture and not be a totally smooth puree.
  4. The Chicken:
  5. 1. Insert sharp knife horizontally into the thick end of the chicken breast. Sweep knife sidewarys to creat an ample pocket without piercing throught hte other side ofthe breast. Slice the other 3 breasts the same way. Divede pesto into 4 equal portions and fill each pocket with pesto.
  6. 2. Sesaon both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper.
  7. 3. Heat grill
  8. 4. Grill both sides of chicken, turning carefully with tongs so pesto doesn't escape.
  9. 5. Last few minutes of grilling time, carefully place thickly sliced tomatoes on grill, season with salt and pepper, grill for just a 30-40 seconds each side. Drizzle with Olive oil.
  10. 6. Serve chicken with grilled tomatoes!

How about a nice salad to go with that yummy chicken?!!


Grean Bean & Basil Salad
Fresh summer green beans are perfect for this summery salad full of wonderful flavors of sherry vinegar, basil, radishes and parmigian cheese!
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  1. 1/4 C Finely chopped shallots
  2. 2 TBSP Sherry vinegar
  3. 1 lb. Fresh green beans
  4. 1 Bunch radishes, cut into thin wedges
  5. 1/2 C coarsely torn fresh basil
  6. 2 TBSP Olive oil
  7. 1 tsp Pink Sea Salt
  8. Freshly ground black pepper
  9. 1/2 C Parmigian Cheese
  1. 1. Stir shallots and vinegar together in large mixing bowl and let sit to mellow.
  2. 2. Boil beans in a large pot of heavily salted water until just tender. Drain then plunge into ice water, drain and dry.
  3. 3. Add beans to the bowl of shallots, toss in the radishes, basil, olive oil, salt and black pepper.
  4. 4. Toss, add cheese and serve!
Simply Living Simply

And here is a refreshing drink to go with your amazing Chicken!




Basil-Lime Gin Fizz
The perfect thirst quencher for hot summer days and nights. This is a wonderful cocktail to pair with Grilled Pesto Chicken!
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Basil Syrup
  1. 1 1/2 C Basil leaves
  2. 1/2 C Sugar
  3. 1/2 C Water
  4. 1/8 tsp baking soda
Basil- Lime Gin Fizz
  1. 2 TBSP Basil Syrup
  2. 2 TBSP Lime Juice
  3. 1 Shot Gin
  4. Chilled sparkling water, soda or tonic of your choice
Basil Syrup
  1. 1. Blanch basil leaves, plunge into small pot of boiling water for 10 seconds, drain and plunge into ice water. Drain and gently squeeze excess water from leaves.
  2. 2. Puree basil in blender with sugar, water, baking soda until you have a dark green liquid, about 30 seconds.
  3. 3. Pour syrup through a strainer. Store in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator, will keep 3-4 days.
  1. 1. Pour syrup and lime juice into the bottom of a 12-ounce tumbler.
  2. 2. Add shot of Gin.
  3. 3. Fill with ice 2/3 way, pour sparkling water, soda or tonic into glass while stirring.
  4. 4. Top with basil leaves.
Adapted from The Herbal Kitchen
Adapted from The Herbal Kitchen
Simply Living Simply





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Simply Living Simply About Simply Living Simply

I am a "red-neck country wife" to one wonderfully amazing man, mother to many outrageous children, daughter of the ONE Glorious God. I'm learning to be more self-reliant & self-sufficient in a semi-homemade, prep-steading way! Homesteading dreams, Prepping realities and Oily goodness!
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  1. Adrienne @ Whole New Mom says:

    Hey kat. Nice post! The #s are goofed up in your recipe though – and there’s one typo, FYI – “at it at the end”. I never knew all this about basil!!


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