FARGO – One of the best pieces of advice I heard about gardening is to grow what you like. Simple enough. But I didn’t always do that. I would grow tomatoes (which are not among my family’s favorite things) because they grow easily in this part of the country. When I’d get a bumper crop each summer, I’d give them away or bring them to work. But by this time of year, I was never sad to see my tomato plants wither and die. The same cannot be said when I started growing something I really love: basil.
I adore basil, whether it’s fresh on a caprese salad or ground into a wonderful pesto or pistou (pesto without the pine nuts or cheese). So these last few weeks, I’ve been sad to see my beloved basil become less robust with the chill of autumn.
Thankfully, I’ve learned two ways to make my basil lovefest last all year long.
According to Good Housekeeping, you can dry or freeze basil, but freezing helps retain the fresh taste better. They suggest two options for freezing: blanching (quickly boiling and placing in an ice bath) whole basil leaves or grinding the herb with olive oil to make basil dollops.
For either method, start by picking leaves off the basil stems and washing them. Allow them to dry thoroughly either on a dish towel or in a salad spinner.
Whole leaf freezing
What you need:
Fresh basil leaves, pulled from stems, washed and dried
4 quarts of water in a stockpot
1 large bowl of ice water
Dish towel or paper towels
Boil water. While water is boiling, prepare an ice bath by putting cold water and ice cubes in a large bowl. Once water boils, put leaves in water for 5 to 7 seconds. Remove with slotted spoon and immediately place in ice bath. (This stops the leaves from cooking further and helps the flavors stay in the leaves.) After a few seconds, remove leaves from ice bath and let dry on dish towel or paper towels. Place layers of leaves in freezer-safe container, separating layers with plastic wrap. Freeze.
Note: Remember that frozen basil leaves are more compact than fresh leaves. After blanching, 4 cups of basil will yield about ½ cup of frozen leaves. So use a little less than the recipe calls for.
What you need:
2 cups fresh basil leaves, pulled from stems, washed and dried
2 tablespoons olive oil
Puree 2 cups basil leaves with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Line cookie sheets with waxed paper. Drop the mixture by teaspoonfuls onto the paper; freeze one hour or until firm. Transfer the dollops – about 16 – to a self-sealing, freezer-safe plastic bag and store up to two months. To use in a recipe, stir in the dollop when you’re almost done cooking.
Basil freezing methods altered from Good Housekeeping.