Basil is one of the most popular culinary herbs in the world and one that gardeners await with anticipation each summer. The name Basil is derived from “basileus”, a Greek word of pre-Hellenic origin meaning “king”. Words such as basilica and basilisk also arose from this root, as did the name of the Italian region Basilicata.
Sow True carries eight kinds of Basil including Genovese, Purple, and Thai.
You can begin using the leaves fresh as soon as the plant is large enough to spare some. Collect from the top branches, cutting off a few inches. Handle delicately as it bruises easily. Store fresh basil as a bouquet in a glass of water on the counter, covered loosely with a plastic bag. It will last up to a week that way. Keeping it in the fridge turns the leaves brown faster.
The traditional way to preserve basil is to dry it. The best time to cut herbs for drying is just before they flower, when the leaves have the most oil. When there is no moisture on the leaves from dew or rain, cut off 6 to 12” branches. Pinch off damaged or diseased leaves. Pruning will keep your basil plant producing longer.
You can air dry basil by tying it in small, loose bunches with twine. Hang these on a hook or a line with clothespins. You can also just hang the individual branches over a line upside down, letting the V of the branch joint hold it. Don’t hang in direct sun. Other methods include laying it on a screen or using a dehydrator. Drying takes only a day or two.
Once dry, remove the leaves and place in an airtight jar. Store herbs in a cool, dry, dark place away from sunlight. Crumble the leaves into your cooking as needed. Dried herbs will keep for years but lose flavor with age.
Most people agree that basil retains the most flavor when frozen. To freeze basil, puree washed leaves in a blender or food processor, adding water as needed to make a thick but pourable puree. Pour it into ice cube trays and freeze, then pop out the green cubes and store in labeled freezer bags. These are easy to add to sauces and soups.
Pesto is my favorite way to use basil. The creamy mixture of pureed basil, nuts, garlic, grated cheese and olive oil makes just about everything taste better.
Here is a recipe for making pesto like an italian grandmother, from 101cookbooks.com
There are many other ways to use the royal herb. Here are the “Top 6 ways to Use Basil” from thekitchen.com, including in cocktails!
And here is a recipe for Herb-Infused Oil from Michael Chiarello, chef at Tra Vigne restaurant in the Napa Valley.
Make immediate use of your herb infusion in this Balsamic Basil Vinaigrette, from the same chef. Yum!
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp finely chopped garlic
2 tsp finely chopped shallots
1 cup basil-infused olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Whisk together vinegar, garlic and shallots in a small bowl. Whisk in basil oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Keeps up to four days refrigerated in a tightly sealed container.
Some of this information adapted from Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening.