Preserving Basil 101: Tips, Tricks and The Basics

Fall is beginning to set in and cooler weather can be felt in most of the country.  We’re even below 100 degrees this week!  Finally!  Some relief!

For those of us who garden, this immediately turns our minds to our gardens and what the change of weather means for our plants.  One plant that I ALWAYS have much success with each summer (despite the ridiculous temperatures) is basil.  Basil is my best friend in the summer.  This year I had three big bushes (and several smaller globe varieties) growing.  This allowed me to look out my back window each day and at least see SOMETHING that was green and growing.
However, as most of us know, the cold is basil’s worst enemy.  One night of close to freezing temperatures and you’ll come out to your garden to find a black, wilted mess.  So sad.  However, the trick is to harvest and preserve the basil BEFORE the cold temperatures come.  There are many ways to do this and in this post, I’ll look at some of the most popular ways to go about it.
I’m going to start with MY favorite way to preserve Basil:
I LOVE pesto.  My husband is a little iffy about it but pesto is one of my favorite things.  It makes a great gift and it freezes well.  Here’s my recipe for pesto:
1 cup firmly packed fresh basil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
1/3 cup walnuts
1 tsp minced garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
salt, to taste
1.  Combine all ingredients except olive oil in a food processor.
2.  Pulse until paste forms, stopping machine several times to scrape sides down.
3.  With machine running, gradually add olive oil.
4.  Refrigerate 1-2 days or freeze up to one month.
Variations:  You can sub pine nuts for the walnuts and the flavor is delicious.  I just find pine nuts to be too expensive for the frequency with which I make pesto.
Pesto can also be made with other herbs.  I’ve made arugula pesto and loved it!
Basil Butter
Yum!  Butter and Basil together!?  Who wouldn’t be in heaven?  Here’s my recipe for basil butter and it, too, can be frozen:
1/8 cup fresh basil – minced
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 tbsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter

1.  Gather ingredients and allow butter to soften at room temperature

2.  Mince all the ingredients that you will be adding to the butter

3.  Stir the butter and other ingredients together, or pulse it all together in a food processor.

4.  Place the mixed butter on a piece of parchment or wax paper.  Roll into a tube-like shape and twist the ends of the paper.  If you want to get fancy, you can also invest in some butter molds.

5.  Place in the refrigerator and allow it to harden.  (You can also place it in the freezer and it will harden more quickly.)
6.  Unwrap, slice, and enjoy.
Basil is pretty easy to dry and store.  I’ve found the best way to do it (without a food dehydrator) is to pick the leaves off of the stem (discard the stem) and lay them out on a screen (or paper towels if you don’t have a screen).  Stir them periodically and let them air dry fully.  Once they are dry, store them whole (or as whole as possible) in a wide mouth jar.  The basil you buy in the store is crumbled but that is an unnecessary step until you go to use it.  Crumbling the leaves prior to using them causes the leaves to lose essential oils that are necessary for a full-flavored herb.
There is a lot of advice out there about freezing basil.  Some say to blanch the leaves first and then freeze it.  Some say you can just freeze fresh leaves. Others recommend freezing the leaves in oil or water.
My favorite method is to put the leaves (removed from the stems) into a food processor and add a little oil.  I start the food processor and add a little more oil until thick paste forms.  (The ratio of basil to oil should be roughly 3:1 or 4:1.)  Then I put a tablespoon of the paste in each of the compartments of an ice cube tray and freeze it.  Once frozen.  I pop the cubes out and put them in a Ziploc bag.  Then I know that each cube is a tablespoon and can use it accordingly in recipes.  It works like a charm!
This is pretty unconventional for our culture but for some cultures today and certainly, throughout our history, salt has often been used to preserve.  I read articles about making a basil salt (where the basil is crumbled/minced in the salt) and also where you can preserve whole leaves between layers of salt.  I’ve never done either of these methods but if this is something that sounds interesting to you, a quick google search will bring up many results.
Did I miss something?  Are their other methods that you enjoy?  Please don’t hesitate to leave your own tips and tricks in the comments below!