I love so many of the summer fresh vegetables and herbs that it is hard to say that any one is my absolute favorite. If forced, I will say the homegrown tomato is my favorite but fresh basil is a close second. Basil is also incredibly expensive to try to use as a fresh ingredient when it is out of season. (At last glance, it appeared to be around $2.50 - $3.00 for a small plastic container of about 8 leaves).
Basil is also the first summer crop to fail when weather turns cooler. A tomato plant may survive a light frost, but the same frost will disseminate a basil plant. So sometime in late September, when the weather is turning cooler, I start thinking about ways to preserve my bounty of basil plants. Here are my favorite methods:
1.) Growing in water: You can extend the life of basil plant for several weeks and longer by simply cutting the branches and stems off the plant and placing them in fresh water. Keep the water fresh and it will be available well past the first frost. It also easily stems in water and you could probably transfer it to soil and grow it indoors if you want to give it a try.
2.) Basil Ice Cubes: Wash the Basil leaves and let them dry. Chop the basil finely and put them in an ice cube tray. Cover with water. Once frozen, you can transfer the ice cubes to a different storage container. I use plastic Ziploc bags. They are the perfect size to drop in a pot of simmering sauce in the middle of winter.
3.) Frozen Basil Pesto: You can do the same thing with basil, finely chopped pine nuts and olive oil for a frozen basil pesto flavoring. However, before you use this method, you should know that there are different opinions on the safety of preserving any food in oil for an extended period of time (over a month). The USDA is clear that ‘any low acid food cannot be safely preserved in oil for extended periods of time.’ This advice is generally used for the method of preserving food in oil under refrigeration rather than freezing.
4.) Freeze the Leaves Whole: Blanch the whole leaves in boiling water for only a few seconds. Drain and rinse with cold water. Pat dry and store in a freezer bag.
5.) Make Basil Butter: Delicious on grilled vegetables or corn on the cob.
4 cloves garlic
15 leaves fresh basil
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 cup butter
Place garlic, basil and pepper in a food processor. Process until the garlic is in small bits. Add the butter and process long enough to mix ingredient together. Place in a container and refrigerate until firm.