Basil is a delicious herb that can be used on all type of dishes and in a variety of recipes. This is especially true of sweet basil or Genoa basil, which is very popular in Italian dishes and in sauces like pesto. One of the difficulties of basil, however, is that it is nearly impossible to keep fresh for very long. Once cut, basil can quickly begin to turn black and wilt at a remarkably fast rate if it is not quickly used. So just how does one go about keeping their often expensive basil fresh once the stems have been picked? This is the question we are going to answer in more detail in the article below.
How to Store Basil So It Maintains Its Freshness
There are a number of ways to store fresh basil to ensure its sweet taste will always will be around when you need it for your recipes. Here are just a few of those secrets:
Buy Basil in a Pot
The most surefire way to ensure basil remains fresh is to buy basil that is still alive and growing in the pot. Do not worry if you do not consider yourself a master gardener—you do not need to be. Basil is a plant that is fairly easy to care for, and potted basil can usually be found at any nursery, home improvement center and even some grocery stores when the basil is in season. Basil will continue to grow in any sunny spot, although if the temperature drops below 40 degrees at any time of the day it is best to keep the basil indoors, perhaps near a window where it has lots of light. Storing basil in this way will ensure you continue to yield fresh basil leaves for weeks upon weeks and can help you eliminate any work-intensive storage methods in an attempt to keep the basil fresh.
Store Basil in Water (Like Flowers)
Perhaps the best way to store freshly cut basil is to put the cut bunch into a glass, large vase or Mason jar filled with water, much like you would keep flowers in water. This way, the water being absorbed by the stem of the plant will help to preserve the fresh leaves for a longer period of time.
To store basil in water, start by trimming off the ends of the stems, in much the same way as you trim the bottom of your Christmas tree before allowing it to rest in the water-filled stand. This will ensure the maximum amount of water into the plant. Once the ends are trimmed, place the basil into a glass, jar or vase that was previously filled with fresh water. Place the vessel into the refrigerator, and cover the leaves of the basil with a plastic bag to shield them from the cold. In using this method, fresh basil can last a full week longer and be more vibrant than it otherwise would have.
This may sound like a lot of work just for one bunch of basil, but when you consider the cost of having to throw out all of the basil that has turned bad, this extra work will seem like nothing whatsoever.
Roll the Basil
This next secret for storing fresh basil comes from the old country—the old country meaning old Italy. It is a simple and straightforward way to keep your basil fresh by not exposing it to too much air.
Just as you would pick salad greens from a stalk of romaine lettuce, start by carefully removing the leaves of the basil plants from their stems. When all the leaves have been successfully removed, lay them out in a single layer—as best you can—onto layers of paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. Once all the leaves have been lined up, merely roll up the towel with the leaves still within, and place the rolled up basil leaves into a plastic bag, preferably one that can be sealed. This trick actually helps to keep the basil leaves hydrated, without getting them wet or damp, which could cause them to wilt prematurely. And when you need some basil for a recipe, simply unroll the towel, take what you need, and roll the leaves back up for safekeeping. With this process the basil leaves can usually last a week to ten days.
Freeze Your Basil
If you are growing basil in your garden or you simply have a lot of the tasty herb on hand, you are definitely going to need a method that keeps it around for more than just a few days to a week. That method is freezing, and there are a couple different processes in which you can freeze basil effectively.
Ice Cube Basil
The first freezing trick for basil is one that can also be done with a variety of herbs, including garlic, rosemary, etc. This trick will also lead to the greenest and freshest-tasting basil you will ever get out of the freezer. To begin this process, place a small pan on the stove and add water and salt. Bring the contents to a rapid boil. Once the salted water is boiling, you are going to quickly blanch the basil by putting it into the water for a total of 15 seconds—no more, no less. After you take the basil out of the boiling water, immediately submerge it into ice-cold water to halt the cooking process. This will not only cool the basil quickly, it will also bring out the deep green color you crave.
Now, place the basil you have blanched into a blender or food processor, add a little olive oil, and mix until the concoction is transformed into a puree. Once in liquid form, pour the basil into ice cube trays and freeze it. After it is completely frozen, transfer the cubes to re-sealable plastic freezer bags. Now you have readymade basil cubes that you can use with all of your favorite recipes. And the best part is that the basil will last up to a year or more when it is prepared and stored in this manner.
Cookie Sheet Freezing
If “Ice Cube Basil” sounds like more work than you would like to do, there is an alternative “basil freezer” method that offers the same basic shelf life. If you choose this method, the first thing you will need to do is lay out your fresh, dry basil leaves onto a cookie sheet or another type of flat pan. Place the cookie sheet into the freezer and keep it there until all the basil has frozen. This will usually take about an hour. Then, transfer the basil from the cookie sheet into re-sealable freezer bags and place it back into the freezer until you need some basil for a recipe.
Cookie sheet freezing is admittedly much easier and less time consuming than the ice cube method, but keep in mind that the basil prepared in this manner for storage will turn black. It does NOT lose its great flavor, but the black color can be a bit unappetizing to some. Of course, you could blanch the basil before placing it onto a cookie sheet, but if you are going to go through all the trouble of blanching the basil, you may as well puree it as well, as the pureed basil tends to have a much better flavor.
Dry the Basil
Finally, drying your fresh basil is another popular storage method, and when you do it yourself it almost always turns out better than the store-bought variety from the supermarket. This can be accomplished in a dehydrator if you have one, but if you do not own a dehydrator you can emulate the process with your own oven. Here’s how:
Put a cookie sheet on the counter and spread the basil leaves in a single layer along that baking sheet—or as close to a single layer as you can get. Pre-heat your oven to its lowest setting—the warm setting—which is usually about 200 degrees. Once the oven has pre-heated, place the cookie sheet in and leave it for about 2-4 hours depending on your oven. At the end of this period, the basil you cooked should be rather dry and crumbly. Make extra certain that ALL of the basil leaves are completely dried out, with no moisture. If even one leave has some moisture left in it you may find that your batch gets moldy in storage. Once all the basil is dry as a bone, let it cool for several minutes. Next, using your hands or a rolling pin, crumble the basil until the pieces are very fine. Transfer the crumbled basil into an airtight container and store at room temperature.
This method of storing basil will ensure it can last a year or more at room temperature. Keep in mind, however, that dried basil is much more potent than fresh basil. In other words, if a recipe calls for a certain amount of “fresh” basil, you will only want to use about half that amount of dry basil for best results.