Lemony pasta primavera with lemon basil

It is amazing how good a simple dish can taste when all the ingredients are fresh and the preparation is minimal. This simple pasta primavera was a big hit with us yesterday and a lot of credit goes to the discovery of lemon basil in addition to all the other fresh ingredients. Did I tell you I have found my new best herb-friend in this lemon basil ;) I have read about a few bloggers who grow and cook with lemon basil. I am always curious when I read about a new vegetables or a new herb, so lemon basil was sure something in my to-try list. Needless to say I was so excited when I happened to stumble across this lemony herb yesterday at the farmer's market.

Usually my Saturday morning lunch menu is decided right when I am doing the groceries. I pick up whatever looks good that day and then cook something around it. A lot of fresh tomatoes are adorning the markets these days I suppose as a sure sign of approaching summer. I picked some up and settled on making some spaghetti with tomato sauce for lunch. Then I went to my usual herb-stall to pick up a batch of basil. As I was picking up my basil a lady next to me sniffed a basil-ish herb and exclaimed to me in delight that she had never quite smelled anything like that and asked me if I had an idea how much these herbs generally cost. I told her they are $1 a bunch usually and she said at that price she could pick up the entire crate and freeze it. I thought it was basil but then she mentioned something about a lemony smell; my curiosity got the better of me and I picked up the herb myself. Sure enough it had the most aromatic lemony basilish smell that I have ever sniffed! I immediately picked up a batch less she should live upto the promise of buying the whole crate! On my way back home I ended up revising the menu from spaghetti with tomatoes to a simple pasta primavera with lots of olive oil and lemon basil.

Lemon basil (picture below) is a hybrid between regular basil and an African basil giving it that distinctive lemonish aroma and a taste with notes of lemon zest and basil. At the first byte I felt the lemon and then much later I felt the basil but after a few more bytes the lemon basil left such a wonderful refreshing almost mouth-cleansing lemonish after-taste in my mouth! Needless to say, I am in full-blown search to find a small sapling or seeds of lemon basil to grow in my veggie patch.

Have you used lemon basil? Any experience growing it?

Recipe: serves 2 as main dish
8oz butterfly pasta
1 leek (or 1/2 large onion)
1/2 red pepper
handful of cherry tomatoes
2 green garlic strands (whites and greens) OR 3 large cloves of garlic
1 yellow squash (or zucchini)
handful of fresh lemon basil leaves
lots of olive oil
crushed red chili flakes
salt & pepper
parmesan cheese (optional)
zest of half a lemon
juice of half a lemon

  1. Heat water in a large pot. When water starts to boil add enough salt and dried pasta. Bring the water back to boil and cook stirring occasionally for 10mins or until the pasta is al-dante. (Once the pasta is ready before removing the pasta from the cooking water, reserve 1C of pasta cooking liquid which we will later use as a sauce).
  2. Meanwhile slice the leeks thinly. Wash them well to clean any dirt trapped inside and set aside. Chop the garlic and yellow squash, halve the tomatoes and cut the red pepper in thin julienne slices.
  3. Heat 1Tbsp olive oil in a large pan. Add chopped garlic and saute for a minute or two on low heat.
  4. Add leeks and saute until the leeks are tender.
  5. Add squash, red pepper and saute for a few more minutes.
  6. Add chopped tomatoes and cook covered for a couple of minutes until the tomatoes become tender and wilted but not mushy.
  7. Add the reserved cooking liquid (1/2C only; add more later if the pasta seems dry). Add the cooked pasta and stir well.
  8. Add lots of lemon basil, a drizzle of good quality olive oil, salt, pepper, crushed red chili flakes and parmesan cheese (if using) and serve.


Simple but great taste, love the final product of this healthy dish, never heard of lemon basil, thanks for the photo dear...
indosungod said…
Pasta with squash is slowly becoming a big hit in our house. I love the colorful and I bet aromatic pasta dish you have there.
I love Zesty touch in anything and this looks sooooooooooo delicious and wish I am there to finish that whole dish...I love lemon Basil too.. Wonderful click as well PJ
Cool Lassi(e) said…
Great discovery. I never knew that this herb existed. Thanks for introducing this new herb to me. Love the pasta primavera. Its certainly looks vibrant and refreshing.
Anonymous said…
oh lovely..lemon basil sounds divine..with those frsh veggies, its good to go
PJ said…
Treat and trick, no problem, glad you liked the lemon basil.

Indo, its a uncommon combination but one that strangely enough seems to go together really well, isn't it?!

Pavithra, thanks, I wish you were here to share this dish too; oh well, virtually atleast :)

Lassie, yes, its a bit unknown herb but very fragrant and flavorfull.

MunchCrunchandSuch, thanks, i really liked the lemony basil flavor of this herb.
tinyskillet said…
This looks fantasitc! I never picked up any lemon basil because I like lemon on its own so much. Now I have to try this! Thanks!
Suji said…
We too like zesty flavor in our dishes...never knew of lemon basil..Thnx for the picture PJ..

Looks yummy..

Kairali sisters
sounds n looks healthy and wonderful.
Preeti Kashyap said…
This is simple dish yet so temptingly lemony. I have seen this herb but never picked it up. Will do so next weekend.
PJ said…
Lyndsey, I love lemon on its own too; which is why I loved this combo basil so much :)

Kairali sisters, no problem, so glad you liked it.

Jay, thanks!

Preeti, I am sure I must have passed by this herb many times before without giving it but a second look.. because it just looks so much like basil!
Inji said…
Pasta looks delicious. I do the same thing while shopping at the Farmer's market - the next couple of meals get planned right there! I've seen this herb as well but never smelled it before. I'm going to pick up a bunch on my next trip.
Sushma Mallya said…
I have never heard of this lemon basil,would love to try it and your pasta looks too good, love the flavours in it
sheba said…
it looks so appetizing and yet so healthy. yum!!and lemon basil sounds great..sigh!!
how have u been....
Kanchan said…
Any type of Basil is infact new to me, I had tried just once for some blog inspired Salad dish .

Your Pasta looks so fresh, totally agree with you.. anything fresh has to taste the best !
Hamaree Rasoi said…
Thanks for introducing me to this new herb. Pasta looks good and I know it must have tasted well too.

Hamaree Rasoi
Miri said…
I have been growing this for the past 6 months and it is a very forgiving plant ( I am wondering whether it will survive the 45C summer though).
Didn't know it was called lemon basil but have been using it in pasta and salads and the like and it is amazing!
Priya Suresh said…
Interesting herb, i never know about this lemon basil, pasta makes me hungry..
Rachana said…
I would love to have that bowl of Lemony pasta :-) It looks so refreshing and tempting!
Luigi said…
Have never seen Lemon Basil before, I like the idea of it though.
barb said…
If you've ever grown basil, it's just as easy. Find it as
a small plant at a garden store or greenhouse. The directions tag will tell you how much sun/shade etc.
PJ said…
Inji, the smell is very distinctive lemonish.. that will be the distinguishing factor from the regular basil.

Sushma, thanks, glad you liked it.

Sheba, I have been doing great, how have you been? Long time no word? Hope everything is going okay.

Kanchan, doesn't fresh ingredients with simple prep always taste so good!

Deepa, thanks, it taste great!

Miri, great, I was looking for someone with experience in growing lemon basil. So does it need similar basil-like conditions? Where do you find the sapling?

Priya, thanks! So glad you liked it.

Rachana, its virtually all yours ;)

Luigi, its great, particularly if you like basil and lemon, its an herb you are sure to love!
PJ said…
Barb, oh great! I have grown basil before. I'll look for the small plant at the greenhouse. Thanks!
ove simple pastas for brunch and this one looks really comforting. i dont think we would get lemon basil here but will use more lemon and dried basil. gonna try it soon.
That sure is one of the most colourful dishes ive ever seen..im sure it tasted just gorgoeus
Ohh, such a lovely looking dish. Thanks for introducing new herb.
PJ said…
Sayantani, dried lemon and dried basil will be a good substitute i think!

An open book, the attraction of pasta salads to me is their color!

N S, no problem, so glad you liked it :)
There are so many great varieties of basil, and lemon basil is one of my favorites! It has this nice brightest to it that adds wonderful contrast to dishes.
Justin said…
i guess i've never tried lemon basil before. i do love lemony-pasta dishes in the summer though. i made one just the other day.
Joanne said…
I love being inspired by fresh goods at the market! I've never seen lemon basil before but now I will certainly look out for it! This pasta primavera looks fantastic...so colorful.
Malar Gandhi said…
Lemony flavor, very soothing to the mood, Love it...Quite simple to fix...yet a delicious memorable food it cud be, gonna try soon:)
Ushnish Ghosh said…
Dear PJ
How are you?
You have nicely engineered the dish....It looks so beautiful that I will not disturb it and keep on looking at it. ( you have to pass on a 2nd plate of it for eating ). Will make it during my next Italian sojourn..I used to wonder , what PJ stands for , now I got it from your website...u have a very rare name..ha ha
have a nice day.
Ushnish da
Hong Kong
PJ said…
Fresh Local and Best, this was the first time i tried lemon basil but yes, i completely agree, it has the most brightest and refreshing flavors that it adds to the dishes.

Justin, lemony pasta dishes are my favorites too. if you dont find lemon basil, lemon juice, zest and regular basil are always a good substitute.

Joanne, me too! its fun making stuff on the fly, isn't it!

Malar, yes, there is something soothing about lemon, isn't it :) i like it too.

Ushnish, PJ is a shortcut for Prajakta which is my real name.. too tough to pronounce so short-cut works better for most people :)
Deepa said…
hey PJ..this looks awesome and what presentation, too good..didnt know lemon basil as one of the variety..
Srivalli said…
What a beautiful picture PJ..very elegant!
Panchpakwan said…
Looks delicious..perfect for summer..
PJ said…
Deepa, yes, its a bit relatively unknown.. but very tasty :) nice to see you back on blog-world!

Srivalli, thanks! I am so glad you liked the pic.

Panchpakwan, thanks, i love salads for summer as main meals.
Mary Bergfeld said…
What a lovely pasta dish. Lemon basil is wonderful in chicken and fish dishes. It is not hard to grow but it must be planted every year if you want a dependable crop. I've spent some time this morning reading some of your earlier posts and must tell you I love your blog. I'll be back often. I hope you are having a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary
Hayley said…
My daughter would love to have that pasta dish..never seen lemony basil or maybe just me not paying enough attention..:-))
Mints! said…
Nice, fresh and fragrant! I love all kinds of basil and its extremely easy to grow.
Nupur said…
How simple and wonderful! That pasta is a showcase of freshness.

I saw lemon basil in the Farmers' Market yesterday but did not buy it. But I did buy 2 bunches of purple basil.
PJ said…
Mary, thanks for the tips on growing lemon basil. If I find the seeds or a small plant, I definitely want to give it a try. I am so glad you liked browsing through this blog, that makes me so much happy :)

Jagruti, it is a bit rare but do try it definitely if you see it around.

Mints!, I am trying to grow regular basil this time. Yeah, I am hoping in CA weather basil growing should not be a big issue.

Nupur, Oh, the purple basil is so attractive! I always see it but never buy it. Look forward to your purple basil recipe next!
Yasmeen said…
Aromatic herbs are always a plus in my cooking,bet lemon basil tastes wonderful in the pasta :D
shriya said…
I love lemon basil in my pasta. Your recipe looks sooo yummy and very beautiful presentation.
Lori said…
No, I have not seen it but I think I would grab a bunch of it if I did. Your pasta primavera looks incredible. Beautiful colors and textures- so inviting.
PJ said…
Yasmeen, lemon basil was wonderful in this pasta.. completely agree about the fresh herbs.

Shriya, thanks, I am so glad you liked it.

Lori, you definitely should.. its one of the best herbs i have tasted in sometime.