Basil is wonderful fresh, but in many parts of the U.S., this herb is the first to succumb to the chill of autumn. Don’t wait until it’s too late to preserve this garden favorite. Pick basil when it’s at its peak for the most flavorful dried or frozen product.
Dry Your Basil
Drying is an easy way to preserve basil. The flavor is more intense than fresh basil—1 teaspoon crushed dried basil equals 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil. When the leaves are dry, store in an airtight jar in a cupboard. Drying and storing herbs whole ensures the best flavor. The essential oils are released when you crush the leaves, so you want to do that right before using. Here are five methods for drying basil:
Gather three to four stems of basil and secure with a rubber band. Tie a string to the bunch to hang on a hook, or slip the rubber band over a wire or wooden clothes hanger. Keep in a well-ventilated, darkened room to dry for a week or so until the leaves are crisp. Strip the leaves and store.
Strip the basil leaves, and lay them on a screen to dry for several days in a warm, dark, ventilated room.
Dry with a Food Dehydrator
Strip basil leaves from stems, and place them on trays. Dry for 1 to 3 hours at approximately 95 degrees F, until crisp.
Dry in the Oven
Heat your oven to the lowest setting, such as warm or 150 to 200 degrees F. Place stripped basil leaves on a layer of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Turn off the oven and place the sheets on the racks. Check and rewarm the oven every hour or so, as needed, until the leaves are crunchy, for approximately four to six hours.
Dry in the Microwave
Place stripped basil leaves on parchment paper on a microwave-safe plate. Heat on high for one minute, check and proceed at 20- to 30-second intervals until the leaves are crisp. Watch carefully and stop the microwave if the basil or paper begins to smoke.
Freeze Your Basil
Freezing basil retains more of the fresh taste you’re accustomed to during summer. Here are three methods for freezing basil:
Strip leaves from the stems. Wash and lay out on a clean towel to thoroughly dry. Leave whole or coarsely chop. Spread out on a plate and freeze 1 to 2 hours. Transfer frozen leaves to a freezer bag and return to the freezer.
Blanch then Freeze
Blanching helps to retain a bit more of basil’s green color. Blanch the leaves in boiling water for 15 seconds. Plunge into ice water to cool. Drain and press out as much moisture as possible with a clean towel. Place in a freezer bag. Store in freezer up to 8 months.
Chop leaves and fill an ice-cube tray with the herbs. Pour water or olive oil over to cover and freeze until solid. Transfer the cubes to a freezer bag to store. The cubes work great in soups and sauces. Store up to 8 months for optimum flavor.
This article was excerpted from Patricia Lehnhardt’s “Bend It Like Basil” in the May/June 2013 issue of Hobby Farm Home.