(Image above: Yummy Pesto from www.asm.org.au)
I think basil has to be my favorite herb. It’s an extremely versatile ingredient, mixing well with pasta, tomatoes, potatoes, breads, cheese, salads, dressings, marinades, poultry, fish, steamed veggies, rice – the list keeps going! Not only does it taste great, but the color is outstanding. That rich, bold green will take any herb garden from looking drab to delightful or perk up a window box in an instant. If you’ve ever owned a basil plant, you also know that the fresh, aromatic smell is intoxicating. It makes me smile every time I get a waft of basil from my back yard, and here are a few ways I try to capture that basil happiness for winter!
For tips on drying, freezing, and pesto-ing basil, keep reading!
A bit overwhelmed by the amount of basil I harvested from my garden (it really went nuts this year!), I went searching different ways to use it. I’m a fan of dried basil for use in the colder months, but this year, I tried freezing it, as well.
Washing basil (or any herb) actually strips the leaves of their essential oils, thus diminishing the flavor. If I grew the basil myself, I don’t wash it at all. Washing basil also increases your drying time, but if you really want to do it, go for it. Just be sure to pat the stalks and leaves dry with a paper towel before starting the drying process.
- Hanging Air Drying – Pick full, healthy stalks of basil from your garden or indoor herb box. Shake them clean to get rid of any dirt. Using twine, yarn, or string, tie 2-3 basil stalks together at the bottom of the stalks. I then string these tied groups up on a long, knotted string hanging vertically from a hook in my ceiling. However, you can figure out what works best for you. Wherever you hang them, just be sure it’s cool, shaded, and dry. Allow as much as 10 days for the leaves to fully dry. You’ll know it’s done when the leaves crumble to a fine powder when crushed between your fingers.
- Cookie Sheet Air Drying – This is pretty basic. It’s the same concept as hanging the basil, but instead of fussing with all of the strings and hooks, you simply pluck the leaves from the stalks, lay them out on a cookie sheet, and place them somewhere cool, dry, dark, and well-ventilated. Allow as much as 10 days for the leaves to fully dry. You’ll know it’s done when the leaves crumble to a fine powder when crushed between your fingers.
- Oven Drying – Same preparation as cookie sheet air drying, but you pop the basil in a warm oven, 120 degrees or less. I did this with one batch, and it took about a day to dry. Be careful not to over-cook it, however – I left a second batch in overnight, and it was all burnt in the morning! Just keep your eye on it, checking how crumbly the leaves are throughout the cooking process. Remove from the oven when leaves crumble to a fine powder when crushed between your fingers.
- Dehydrating – I’ve never tried this, but if you have a dehydrator, give it a go! I’d love to hear how it turns out. As stated by NaturalLivingCuisine.com, you lay out fresh basil leaves on the dehydrating racks and dry for 8-10 hours.
Storing Dried Basil
- Canning jars with new lids and rings are perfect, and pretty! This is my preferred method.
- Plastic bags with a seal work well.
- Spice tins, if you have them, are also good!
- Full Leaves – Pull full leaves from the basil stalks. Fill plastic freezer bag with the leaves, and make sure you squeeze out as much air as possible. Freeze for up to 4 months. Don’t be alarmed if the basil leaves turn dark brown or black in the freezer – that’s normal!
- Chopped and Ready – This is a fun one! Pull full leaves from the stalks. Using a blender or food processor (or any other kind of chopper you have – Magic Bullet, maybe?), chop up the basil into a paste. Add a touch of water, and pour the basil/water mixture into an empty ice cube tray. Freeze for up to 3 months. When you have a recipe that calls for basil, simply add a cube!
One of the most obvious ways to use up a surplus of basil is make pesto! Here is the best recipe I’ve found. It’s super easy, and so good, you won’t even believe it!
- 2 tbsp pine nuts (or walnuts, if you like a tangier, more robust taste)
- 2 cups fresh basil
- 1/2 cup olive oil (the better quality, the better tasting the pesto!)
- 1/2 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese (I use Romano, as it’s not as strong)
- Combine all ingredients in a blender, food processor, or large mixing bowl.
- Using a blender, processor, or hand-held puree device, blend until smooth.
- Store in air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Mix a few tablespoons with warm pasta, spread on sandwiches or toasty bread, or serve as a glaze for chicken or fish.
Do you have a favorite basil recipe, or a pesto tip? Leave a comment below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!