Key Ingredient: Basil

Why Basil?

Although Basil’s peak season doesn’t hit until July, I’m starting to see it floating around the Union Square green market. So when I decided to host Shabbat last Friday and heard that ramps were out of season, I knew that it was the perfect time to grab some basil!

Basil is the ultimate summer herb. Its rich flavor allows for endless food combinations  and makes the perfect addition to fresh fish, seasonal tomato & mozzarella salads, textured vinaigrettes, or flirty cocktails! And after deciding on making salmon for my Shavuot Shabbat, I knew a homemade pesto and some bucatini would be the perfect complement!

The How’s & Why’s of Using Basil

Basil is traditionally used fresh in cooked recipes. It is usually added at the last moment, as cooking quickly destroys the flavor. I have also been told that basil should be torn rather than cut. When basil is cut, its edges turn black which is why pesto was previously made in a mortar and pestle. But to save time,¬† I like to make my basil with an immersion blender. In my experience, the pesto darkens in color over time so I’d recommend using your fresh pesto within three days or freezing it.

Tips on Storing Fresh Basil

Fresh Basil can be kept for a short time in plastic bags in the refrigerator, or for a longer period in the freezer, after being blanched quickly in boiling water. I also like to make a big batch of pesto and then freeze individual cubes in my ice tray so that I can use them later for individual portions. After the cubes are frozen, they should be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in a freezer bag (in the freezer) for up to three months.

The Six Ingredients Behind Pesto

Pesto is traditionally made with 6 (easily substitutable) ingredients:

  1. Basil (Spinach, Arugula)
  2. Pine Nuts (Walnuts, Almonds, Macadamia Nuts)
  3. Olive Oil (Walnut Oil, Garlic Oil, Chicken Broth)
  4. Grated Parmesan Cheese (Pecorino Romano, Asiago)
  5. Garlic (Green Onion, Ramps, Shallots)
  6. Salt

Optional Ingredients: Lemon, Chili Pepper, Roasted Red Pepper

But for convenience and variety, I like to change it up a bit so this time I decided to use walnuts in place of pine nuts. Most bakers usually have walnuts laying around their kitchens and they also tend to be less expensive than pine nuts. So feel free to use any of the substitutions listed above to create your own fun variation or you can just follow my recipe below.

Basil-Walnut Pesto Recipe


  • 2 cups packed fresh basil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/3 cup chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt, or more to taste


  1. Pull basil leaves from stems, wash and dry.Pesto Ingredients
  2. Place the dried leaves and remaining ingredients into bowl and blend with immersion blender until the mixture is completely blended and all of the ingredients have been broken down.
  3. Serve as a vinaigrette, sauce, or topping on a beautifully seared piece of salmon!Basil Walnut Pesto
Seared Salmon with Basil Walnut Pesto