Basil, a tender, leafy member of the mint family, is most abundant in the summertime and available at many produce markets year-round. Because it’s easy to grow both indoors and out, basil has found its way into many cuisines. You’ll appreciate its warm, mild, licorice-tinged flavor and aroma in both hot and cold dishes. Fresh basil is often paired with tomatoes in both hot dishes and cool salads.

Common basil has large, bright green leaves, while globe basil, a bushier plant, has more, smaller, and spicier leaves. Other varieties include opal or purple basil, a purple or purple-and-green variety with a spicier flavor and slightly tougher leaves.

Pesto, basil’s most famous incarnation, traditionally combines the pureed fresh herb with olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. Typically tossed with pasta, pesto is also a delicious component in many other dishes, particularly cheesy dishes. It also makes a great alternative sauce on pizza. Happily, pesto freezes very well, making it one of the best ways to preserve fresh basil. Get your winter basil fix by buying lots of basil in the summertime, when it’s plentiful and cheap, then freezing it as pesto for later use.

Select crisp, bright green springs with no spots on the leaves. Slightly limp basil can be plumped up by standing it in water, bouquet-style, for about 30 minutes. Loosely wrapped and refrigerated, this is also a great way to store basil.

While dried basil is worlds apart from fresh, it can be substituted in cooked dishes and simmered sauces. Never substitute dried for fresh in an uncooked dish. Dried basil is a popular component in many spice blends and rubs.

Next time you have a few more sprigs of basil than you need to use, try rooting the excess and making your own basil plant. Snip off the bottom 1/4″ of the stem, pluck off the bottom leaves, and place in a jar of water on a sunny windowsill, adding water if necessary. Your stems will root in about a week or so. After the roots are an inch or two long, plant them in small pots. Pinching off the top leaves will keep your plant thriving and bushy.

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