Fresh from the garden, basil, Ocimum basilicum, is an aromatic delight. It has a pungency that goes airborne, steeping the entire yard and then the house when leaves are picked and brought into the kitchen. A natural room freshener, it floods your nasals with a deep aroma that lasts for awhile. According to Wikipedia, basil is related to mint, and there are more than 160 varieties of it. It is a half hardy annual that does not survive a frost.
|Basil in the colander ready to wash.|
Fresh is the ultimate way to use this plant. Although it’s common to find dried basil in the spice selection at the market, drying it leaves only a hint of its heady scent. We’ve found that freezing basil preserves much more scent and flavor. While there's nothing like fresh, a package of basil taken from the freezer has a lot more of the basil aroma than the dried variety.
There are three varieties of basil in our garden this year. They are Genovese, the most common basil and the type found in most supermarket produce sections; Thai, with smaller leaves and its own aroma; and Lime with a distinctly citrus aroma. Lime basil is a new variety for us this year.
|Drying the basil.|
Over the summer we've made a few batches of pesto, herbed up our soups and stir fries and included basil in salads. After picking leaves for these things, more leaves grow; the plants keep on producing. Because of this there is plenty to put away for winter, and now that fall is here, it’s time to freeze some basil.
Here's how we do it.
Pluck the leaves from the stems and wash them in cold water.
|On the pan and ready to freeze.|
Dry the leaves between two layers of towels.
Place the leaves on a baking sheet, spreading them out to prevent clumping.
Put the baking sheet in the freezer for a few hours or overnight.
Take the pan out of the freezer, package the frozen leaves in a large bag, and put the basil back into the freezer.
We use the frozen basil by taking a small handful out of the bag, chopping it and adding to cooked dishes. Freezing basil causes it to wilt, making it less suitable for uncooked uses.
The process of preparing basil for freezing takes only a small amount of time. It's a way to enjoy its fabulous aromas and flavors all winter long. -G.H.