By Charlie Nardozzi
Basil is booming in gardens this time of year, and it is hard to keep up with the harvest. While tossing basil in pasta, adding it to salads, and mixing it into casseroles are all standard ways of using this herb, it is also helpful
to think about the future. Preserving some of the harvest will allow you to recapture the flavors of the season after all the fresh basil is gone. Here are some easy ways to process your basil:
- Freeze the leaves. You can freeze basil leaves for use in winter cooking. First blanch the leaves for fifteen seconds in boiling water and then submerge them in ice water to cool. Pat the leaves dry with paper towels, stack the leaves in containers, and freeze.
- Freeze the pesto. Make extra pesto and freeze it in ice cube trays. Once the cubes are frozen, pop the pesto out of the trays and into freezer bags to save space. When freezing pesto, you don’t need to include all the final ingredients. Actually, I just blend basil with olive oil and freeze that mixture. When cooking in winter, I add nuts and cheese and then reblend the pesto.
- Dry your basil. Although the results are not as flavorful as freezing or canning fresh basil, drying the leaves by placing them on a screen, not touching each other, in a warm, well-ventilated room is a good way to store excess basil. When the leaves are crunchy and break apart easily, they are dry enough to store in glass jars.
- Store basil in salt. Here’s an unusual way to preserve basil. Layer salt and basil leaves in a container and refrigerate. Months later, the leaves will still have the basil taste, without picking up much of the salt flavor.
When harvesting basil for processing, try to remove whole branches back to the main stem. This will force the plant to send up new stalks that will produce fewer but larger leaves than if you had just removed individual leaves. Also, keep the flowers picked off so the plant will continue growing.