What can you do with extra basil? Make dairy-free pesto!

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If you can believe it, November 12 was the final basil harvest of the season from my Texas garden. This was a great year for basil – the summer was hot, and the basil loved its place near the tomatoes and bell peppers (yep, companion planting does work!).

This harvest yielded about 20 cups of basil leaves. Isn’t it gorgeous? The smell in the kitchen was so fresh and liquorish-y. There’s nothing like fresh herbs.

basil harvest

Here’s how to maximize your basil harvest (or, anytime you have some extra basil on hand:

Here’s what you can do with a big basil harvest:
• You can make basil cubes, two ways. Chop up the basil and freeze the basil in water OR freeze the basil in olive oil.
• You can do something slightly more complicated but only requires five ingredients. You can make a dairy-free pesto!

How to make basil cubes

For basil ice, you need the following equipment:
• Food processor (or a good, sharp knife)
• Two ice cube trays
• One measuring cup

And, it only requires three ingredients:
1. Basil (of course)
2. 1/2 cup water
3. 1/2 cup olive oil

Here’s how to do it:
• Chop your basil in the food processor (or with your knife).
• Spoon a teaspoon of chopped basil into each ice cube well.
• Fill your measuring cup with water.
• For the first ice cube tray, pour water over the basil in each ice cube well, making sure the basil is submerged.
• Then, empty your measuring cup and fill it with ½ cup of olive oil.
• For the second ice cube tray, fill each well with oil, again ensuring that the basil is covered by the oil.
• Pop trays in the freezer until hardened.


These can be stored over the winter and used in sauces, soups, or even in omelets! Just pop a cube out of your tray and its ready to use. I add the water-based basil in stews and steamed veggies. The olive oil basil cubes I melt as a base for eggs, marinara sauce, or even as a dip for crusty, whole grain bread.

How to make dairy-free pesto

Why dairy-free pesto? It’s delicious, for one. And, it is creamy with an amazing depth of flavor, even without the cheese. It’s helpful to have a dairy-free pesto on hand in case you (or anyone you know) is sensitive to dairy. You can first mix this dairy-free pesto sauce with pasta, rice, or any other grain. Then, if you’d like to add Parmesan to your dish, you can sprinkle your meal with the cheese after you’ve served the dairy sensitive folks. Also, if you are vegan or have vegan friends, this recipe is perfect!

basil pesto

For the dairy-free pesto, you need the following equipment:
• Food processor
• Zester
• Hand juicer
• Two measuring cups

And, it only requires five ingredients:
• 5 cups of washed basil leaves
• 1 cup olive oil
• Lemon zest from ½ lemon
• Lemon juice from ½ lemon
• ½ cup pine nuts

Here’s how to do it:
• Lightly toast your pine nuts at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 5-7 minutes. You’ll know when the nuts are done when they have turned a very light golden color.
• While the nuts are toasting, zest your lemon and set aside.
• Next, juice the lemon into a measuring cup.
• Then, add ½ cup of olive oil into your other measuring cup.
• By this time, the pine nuts should be toasted. Take them out and set aside to cool.
• Put half your basil (about 2½ cups) in the bottom of the food processor, and add your lemon zest on top.
• Begin pulsing your basil, and add lemon juice while the leaves are being chopped.
• Add ¼ cup of pine nuts to your mix.
• Add ½ cup olive oil.
• Next, add the rest of your basil (by now, there should be room in the processor).
• Finish by adding the rest of your pine nuts and olive oil.
• Then, taste your pesto. Add salt and pepper to taste, as you like (I don’t salt mine at all, actually).

Troubleshooting tip: Pesto should be a spreadable consistency and have a balance of flavor with the tang from the lemon, the creaminess from the nuts and olive oil, and fresh flavor from the basil. If the pesto is too thick, add oil or lemon juice. If it’s too watery, add pine nuts and basil leaves. If it tastes like it has too much lemon, add some basil leaves and olive oil. If it’s too creamy, add a bit more lemon juice. And, if it’s not fresh enough, add more leaves. Pesto is an art rather than a science. Play with the ratio of ingredients to fit your taste.

dairy free basil pesto

I store my pesto in a quart size freezer bag. This way, when I want to make pesto pasta, a pesto rice casserole, or if I want to have a pesto dip for bread, I can simply break off a bit of the pesto in the bag and save the rest. The good news is that a little pesto goes a long way – it is so flavorful and rich!

…and an observation (just for fun). I’ve found that lemon juice really brightens the color and flavor of pesto. You can see the differences in the batches when lemon wasn’t used as much. Just look at the difference in the color!

dairy free pesto with lemon

How do you like to use basil in your cooking? Let me know in the comments.

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