Yesterday I posted his photo on my Facebook page of the basil we harvested from our garden. This was actually the fourth large batch we picked in addition to more than 80 cucumbers, 10 summer squash, 20 tomatoes, and a few peppers. I jokingly commented about how I should now have enough basil to last this Italian through the winter. Ha Ha! I really love basil. But the most asked question I received was “How do you preserve basil for the winter?”
Italian basil is a flavorful herb that adds tremendous flavor to sauces and pasta and rice dishes. It pairs really well with tomatoes so we use it often in this household making Italian tomato sauce and caprese salads.
My husband has gotten really good at pruning the basil plants so they continue to produce leaves all summer long and even grow into large bushes. The plants seem to grow best in the hot, humid weather.
Prune & Harvest the Basil
Prune basil plants every week or two if you notice they growing quickly. To this, simply pinch off the flower that begins to grow at the V of each stem. Don’t allow the flower to bloom and the plant will continue to grow taller and produce new basil leaves.
Harvest the basil leaves about every 1-2 weeks when they are a rich green color, cutting at the stem. If you wait too long to pick them the leaves will start to yellow or brown. It’s best to pick them before this happens.
When you bring the inside, place it in the (clean) kitchen sink. Fill the sink with cold water to wash, then lay it on a clean towel to drain and (mostly) dry.
Remove Stems & Bag
Remove the leaves from the larger thick stems and place the leaves in plastic freezer bags. Discard any leaves that have turned yellow or brown.
(Side note: We’re in the process of making Bread & Butter pickles with those 55 cucumbers from our garden. More on that later this week so be sure you’re signed up to receive Entri Ways’ emails in your inbox!)
Place a single paper towel in each bag to absorb any excess moisture. This helps with keep any ice crystals from forming on any wet leaves. Keeping the leaves drier also means that when you remove the bags from the freezer you can bang them with your fist and the leaves instantly chop into smaller pieces.
Squeeze any air out of the bag, seal the bag, and place in the freezer until you’re ready to use the basil.
The basil will turn a darker color in the freezer, but remains just as flavorful as the day you cut it. Simply take out the amount needed for cooking and place the bag back in the freezer. Careful, though… the basil defrosts very quickly so be sure to return the unused basil to the freezer immediately.
There you have it, the few easy steps to pruning, harvesting, and preserving basil so you have fresh basil for cooking all year long.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s posts later this week on jarring bread & butter pickles and making homemade Italian sauce with fresh tomatoes from the garden.