Freezing Fresh Basil
I have to credit my long-lost friend Karen with introducing me to the wonders of fresh basil. A bottle of dried basil was in my cupboard with the rest of my herbs and spices. I’d used it when I made vegetable-beef soup but never tasted fresh basil.
We’d planned a kayaking trip down the Shiawassee River in mid-August. The water was low and we knew we’d have to do some wading. But we didn’t mind, it’s all part of the sport.
I was dating her brother-in-law at the time. The group included the two of us, Karen, her husband and their two children.
Karen is a delightful naturalist that will toss a handful of edible apple blossoms on top of a green salad just to make it pretty. Her free spirit is truly connected to the earth. If there was anything I needed to know about gardening, she’s the one I’d ask.
But back to the kayak trip. We’d decided to pack a lunch to enjoy at the end of our float. I don’t remember what I brought, probably some no-bake cookies, bottled water and red licorice Twizzlers. Red licorice is a staple on any of our kayaking trips.
Karen, on the other hand, packed baguettes, fresh basil leaves, home grown tomatoes and thick slices of mozzarella cheese. She put it all together and made the best sandwiches I’d had in a long time. I loved them and had two, which I never do. While we were eating she told me there are three methods for freezing fresh basil at the end of the season, before a killing frost. Even though basil will darken when it is frozen, it will keep the fresh flavor and can be used the same as fresh picked in any cooked dish throughout the winter.
The first method is the easiest. Remove the leaves from the stems then gently wash and them. Spread the leaves out on cookie sheets and place in the freezer. The next day, or when the basil is completely frozen, put leaves in freezer bags.
The second method involves a food processor or blender. Again, wash, dry and separate the basil leaves from the stems. For every cup of packed basil leaves add one tablespoon of olive oil. Puree this mixture then pack into ice cube trays. Once frozen, the basil cubes can be stored in plastic freezer bags or freezer containers. This is the best method for retaining the fresh color of the basil.
For method three; wash the basil but DO NOT remove leaves from stems. Blanch bunches of basil for 15 seconds and then immediately place in ice water. At this point, cut the leaves from the stems if desired, but it isn’t necessary. Dry the basil then freeze on cookie sheets and store in freezer bags.
After spending the day on the river with Karen and eating her wonderful sandwiches, I started growing my own basil in a small garden by the shed. This year I found a new purple-leafed variety at the nursery; Red Rubin Basil (ocimum basilicum). It is beautiful reddish purple and will be delicious today in a basil-tomato-mozzarella sandwich.
One of my favorite recipes using basil is pesto. Other herbs, such as kale or parsley can be used. Also, walnuts or sunflower nuts can be substituted for the pine nuts, to create a different flavor. Here is a good basic pesto recipe:
2 cups packed basil ¼ cup pine nuts
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese 2 tablespoons extra-virgin
2 tablespoons lemon juice olive oil
1 tablespoon water ½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
Put all of the ingredients into a food processor or blender. Pulse until smooth.
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