Have you tried storing basil for the winter in a milk carton? This is just one of three good methods to store basil that are revealed below.
With the threat of frost, all garden basil must be harvested and then hopefully stored to be enjoyed during the cold months to come. Since basil has a high water content is cannot be dried like many other herbs as it will turn black and lose flavor. It will also turn black if chopped or bruised and exposed to air. Fortunately freezing basil works great.
Before describing the freezing methods, let’s digress briefly. If you are growing basil yourself, then hopefully you have been harvesting and pruning all season. Pruning makes the plants fuller and keeps them from going to seed which diminishes the leaf flavors. You can store basil keeping it fresh for up to two weeks by placing the branches in a vase and keeping them on the counter out of the sun.
So let’s get back to how to freeze basil. The first step for all three methods is to clean & dry the basil. First remove all leaves from the stems. If you are going to try out the second freezing method, then you will probably want to leave some of the buds intact. The stems should be discarded. Rinse the leaves thoroughly taking care not to bruise them. Finally you want to remove excess water from the leaves by using a salad spinner or laying them out on towels to dry.
The first and most common way to freeze basil is basically the start of a pesto sauce. You chop or puree the basil leaves with olive oil and a bit of salt in a food processor. Coating the basil pieces with oil protects them from air so they can maintain their color & flavor. Pour the puree into small air tight containers and add some extra olive oil on top. After defrosting the puree, re-process adding your favorite pesto ingredients.
The second method takes a little more time, but is still an easy way to freeze basil. This method keeps whole individual leaves or plant buds intact to use as garnish. Put prepared leaves & buds on trays in the freezer for about one to two hours. Once they are frozen, put them into air tight containers. Do not over crowd them; otherwise they will lose their shape. After defrosting for use, you can julienne the leaves or use them whole as garnish on pasta dishes or soups.
Now how about that milk carton? This third method is the easiest. Simply pack the leaves into a cleaned out milk carton with the top cut down. Seal the top closed. Use quart sized cartons & then put the sealed carton inside a Ziploc baggy to make it air tight. When you want to use the basil for cooking, cut off a slice of the carton & re-store the remainder as it was. The frozen leaves are great to use in sauces.
Hopefully you will try one (or all) of these easy ways to freeze basil. By taking time to store basil in the fall, you can enjoy the fresh basil flavors throughout the year. Happy cooking!