Basil is one of those plants that just loves our hot, sticky, southern summers. And that means most of us wind up with far more than we can reasonably use this time of year.
In our herb garden here in Western North Carolina, it seems every time I pick a massive bunch to make into pesto it grows back two-fold the next day! And since I’ve given as much as possible to my neighbors, friends and family, it got me thinking about ways I could preserve it to enjoy in the fall and winter (beyond making more pesto). –
After some research, testing, and trial and error, here’s what I came up with.
#1: Freeze It (2 Ways)
Did you know freezing basil is, literally, as easy as 1-2-3 OR 1-2-3-4? First, the no-blanch method (and please be sure to wash your basil in a water bath to draw out dirt and pests):
No-blanch frozen basil:
Step 1: Pick basil fresh and separate the leaves from the stem. Separating the plant isn’t essential but it will take up less room in the freezer.
Step 2: Coat lightly in olive oil to preserve color.
Step 3: Place in a freezer bag, mason jar, ice cube tray or other storage container. I like using gallon-size silicone freezer bags to save space and plastic. Yes, they cost more up front but you can reuse them forever.
This is the method I usually use and I find the basil holds up well for a couple of months. However, if you plan on storing it longer I’d recommend blanching the basil for a few seconds in boiling water, then shocking it in cold water, before coating with oil and freezing. This will help it keep longer in the freezer, up to 6 months or more.
You can use frozen basil in place of fresh in most cooked recipes like spaghetti sauce, soups, etc. Easy peasy.
So, 3 steps for short-term freezing (no-blanch) and 4 steps for long-term (blanch).
#2: Make compound butter
Compound butter sounds so fancy and sophisticated. But, when you break it down it’s really just butter buzzed up with endless combinations of herbs, spices and other aromatics. You can even add things like savory sundried tomatoes or sweet strawberries.
Basil compound butter is awesome because it offers a quick way to preserve your basil in the fridge or freezer, and makes a delicious last-minute sauce for pasta, potatoes, steaks, etc. It also adds a nice gourmet touch to garlic bread, spread on biscuit, or dobbed into soup.
Basic Basil Compound Butter
1 stick of your favorite butter, softened
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
Optional ingredients: garlic, sun dried tomatoes, shallots, chives, strawberries, lemon...sky’s the limit!
- Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until well combined.
- Place on a piece of wax paper and roll into a log.
- Place in fridge to solidify. Freeze if desired.
#3: Dehydrate it (properly)
Yes, dried herbs are a dime a dozen these days. But home-grown, dried basil is far superior in flavor, color, and quality. Plus, it makes a great holiday gift.
The key is knowing how to dehydrate it properly to lock in the flavor and avoid any contamination issues. Since it’s humid in the south I’m not a big fan of air-drying herbs due to the risk of mold...and bugs (ew!). But if you have a dry spot, that’s definitely an economical and flavor-enhancing option. For the rest of us, here are two other methods.
Regardless of which method you choose, begin by preparing your basil by gently washing in a water bath to draw out any dirt or bugs. Spin or gently pat dry.
How to Dehydrate Fresh Basil Using a Food Dehydrator
Since every dehydrator and level of humidity in the home is different, it’s best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. However, I always check it when it’s about half way through, then three-quarters of the way through to make sure it doesn’t get over-dried, which can degrade its flavor. In the south it generally takes 12-24 hours, and is done when it’s crispy.
How to Dehydrate Fresh Basil Using Your Oven
- Wash, dry and separate basil leaf from stems. Discard stems or save for infusions.
- Set your oven to 170-190 degrees (the lower the better, but do not go over 195).
- Place the washed basil on a cookie sheet.
- Bake for 1 ½ - 2 hours or until all the basil is crispy. This is important as one wet leaf can ruin a whole batch when stored.
Store in very dry spice jars, mason jars or storage bags. Dried herbs are typically most flavorful if used within 6 months, but since you will be drying yours super-fresh it’ll likely stay flavorful longer.
You’ll notice I did not list the microwave drying method here. That’s because I don’t own a microwave so I have not tried it. Plus, I have heard it does not preserve the flavor as well as the other methods.
#4: Make basil-infused vodka
Though the mint julep is arguably the most famous herb-inspired southern drink, basil-infused vodka can really liven up a classic Bloody Mary or create a new sweet libation like peach/basil martini. The drink pictured above is a Basil Gimlet.
And it couldn’t be easier.
Basil Infused Vodka
- Throw a nice bunch of fresh, washed basil into a quart-size mason jar. You can muddle it or not, either way it will work.
- Pour your favorite plain vodka on top.
- Seal and place in a cool dark place for at least 3 days.
- After 3 days, taste it and see what you think. The longer you leave it, the more potent the flavor will be.
- When it’s done to your liking, strain out the basil and enjoy your vodka!
If you want to get creative, you could also add strawberries or strawberry hulls, peaches, lemons or limes, whatever strikes your fancy.
#5: DIY Basil salt
Flavored salts are a staple of gourmet stores and add amazing flavor to grilled food, roasts, potatoes, etc. However, with just a few minutes and a few cheap ingredients you can make an even better version at home.
Homemade Garden fresh Basil Salt
Equal parts of your favorite coarse salt and fresh basil.
- Preheat oven to 225 degrees.
- Place ingredients in a food processor and process until well combined.
- Spread on a sheet pan and bake for 10 minutes. Stir it up, then bake for another 10 minutes for 20 minutes total baking. This will evaporate the moisture from the fresh basil making it suitable for storage.
- Return the salt to a very dry food processor (it must be very dry at this point as any moisture could cause spoilage of the final product) and pulse a few times until it’s ground to your liking.
- Store in spice jars or mason jars and enjoy! This makes a great gift.
Add lemon zest for lemon basil salt
Add fresh pepper for salt & pepper basil salt
Want more tips on preserving your garden's bounty?
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