One of my favorite fresh herbs is basil. I love it on Margherita Pizza, in pasta sauces, soups, casseroles and compound herb butters and pesto! There is nothing quite like fresh, but there are ways to preserve the fresh flavor of basil to use year round. If you’re like me, you love to have a kitchen herb garden. It makes me happy to see a little pot of basil growing in a sunny window. I love that I can just pinch off a few leaves at a time to use in a recipe. Since I started growing my own basil for cooking, my recipes have never tasted better.
My secret to successfully growing herbs in my kitchen is a Self Watering Planter. This way, I don’t have to remember to water it! (I’m not good very good at that!) I have actually started growing basil from seeds using this little miracle planter! It can also be used to grow basil (and other herbs) from starter plants.
Storing Fresh Basil…
Whether you buy fresh basil from the produce department or grow it yourself, once you cut the stems, you will need to keep it in water. Place the basil in a jar with the stems in about 1” of room temperature water. (You don’t need to fill the jar with water.) Keep the jar in a part of your kitchen that doesn’t get direct sunlight. (The sunlight is great if you are growing the basil in soil, in fact it needs sunlight, but after it has been cut, it should be kept away from the sunlight.) Fresh basil stores best at room temperature. The cold temperatures of the refrigerator can discolor the leaves and turn them black. Other herbs can be refrigerated, but just remember that basil likes room temperature.
Loosely cover the basil leaves in the jar with a plastic bag like a tent. (This creates a little “greenhouse.”) Change the water each day so it is fresh. Your basil should keep for about a week.
If you want to preserve basil for later…
Freezing Fresh Basil – Remove the leaves and discard the stems. Be gentle as you do this because basil can “bruise” easily. Carefully rinse the leaves and allow them to air dry on a paper towel.
When completely dry, Place the leaves onto a parchment lined baking sheet and put it into the freezer. They will freeze within about 45 minutes. Then bag them up to use in cooking later.
Another freezing technique is to make “basil cubes.” Chop the basil leaves and put them into an ice cube tray. Fill with water and freeze. Keep the frozen cubes in an air-tight container and keep frozen. These cubes can be used in soups, sauces and other dishes.
Drying Basil – You can use a Food Dehydrator like I do, or you can use your oven. If using a dehydrator, follow the instructions for drying herbs. If you use your oven, line a baking sheet with parchment. Lay out the leaves in a single layer. Place in oven at 180° for about 2 hours. The leaves will be crumbly. Store the crumbled basil in a zipper seal bag or small jar. This is perfect for adding to soups or cooked dishes. Just remember that when it comes to cooking with dried herbs, a little goes a long way!