Freezing Fresh Basil for Winter!
It’s an annual ritual. The days get a little shorter, the mornings a little cooler, and my basil plants are ready for a final harvest. I always have several bushy basil plants, so that I only have to take a few steps outside my door for a handful of fragrant green leaves. Fresh pestos appear at whim, and you can see how it goes in this Roasted Tomato Sauce over Pan-Toasted Gnocchi
It’s easy to get attached to my basil plants, and put off the harvest. To garden is to suffer, and change is inevitable. The seasons will move on without me, and if I pretend it’s not happening, I’ll end up waking up to basil blackened by a night with a drop in temperature. It has happened before, when deadlines loomed and some part of me wanted summer to just keep on going.
Harvest Time is Here
For better or worse, this is the year when I am not “too busy” to harvest basil. In fact, we seem to be going through a collective shift from being crazy busy to being a little bit idle, and it can be uncomfortable. Talking to people in different situations, I find that some are replacing their old routines with things like gardening and going for walks, and relishing it, while some are having a harder time with finding a sweet spot.
Every day offers me a lesson in letting go and accepting what is. It’s time to put away my basil.
You might want to invest in a good food processor, to puree the basil with the least amount of olive oil. I use a Cuisinart. Then you need a good spatula to scrape out your basil paste. Both are kitchen helpers you will use over and over.
Drying vs Freezing Basil
Freezing basil the best way to save it. I’ve tried drying it, and it always seems like a waste of good basil. The flavor weakens, and the magic is gone. I’ve developed this method, which is simple, and avoids some of the pitfalls that can befall other methods. Back in the day, it sounded so smart to freeze basil in ice cube trays. But even though Martha said it was best, I noticed that a bag of basil cubes didn’t hold up well as it rattled around my freezer in the ensuing months. The enemy of your basil puree is oxidation, and all those basil cubes had lots of exposed surfaces, and air in the bag between them. After a while, the cubes looked shaggy, and the basil darkened.
I also read up on the effects of freezing pestos with garlic and other ingredients, and learned that those additions caused the puree to go bad sooner in the freezer. So, I came up with my own method of freezing basil.
I hope you’ll watch the video, where all is made clear in my kitchen. The gist of it is that you want to puree your basil with only olive oil, and to pack it in a zip-top bag so that it is completely sealed off from air. Then you can flatten the puree to a thin sheet of basil puree and lay it flat in the freezer. Once it’s solid, you can stack the sheets wherever they fit.
Then, just open the bag and break off a chunk, like these:
I’ll keep on picking from what’s left on my plants, and who knows, we might get a few more weeks of warm nights.
But at least I saved a good stash of basil, and I can savor the flavor of summer all winter long
The Best Way to Save Fresh Basil
- fresh basil
- extra virgin olive oil
- Pick all the leaves from your basil. Place them in a food processor bowl. Process, scraping down as needed, until the basil is minced.
- Drizzle in olive oil with the machine running, just until a paste is produced.
- Scrape the paste into sturdy quart-sized zip-top freezer bags, and flatten into a sheet, about 1/3 inch thick. Label the bag and lay flat in the freezer until solid.
- To use, break off a chunk of the paste and add to pestos, sauces, soups, or anything else that needs a little basil, and a little taste of Summer!