All That Basil

Today’s post is a guest post from Michelle A. Potter at The Sage Butterfly.


By this time each year, my basil plants have grown tall and full of basil leaves. Although I harvest the basil throughout the season, this time of year is when I spend a lot of time preserving it. Basil is a very aromatic and versatile herb that can be used in numerous dishes and teas, and so I like to have it on hand during the winter for soups, pastas, vegetable dishes, and salads.

The best time to harvest basil is the early morning after the dew has dried. Try to harvest before the plant flowers for optimum flavor. To harvest basil, cut at a leaf joint about three to six inches from the top. The basil will continue to grow and leaf out. If you are ready to harvest all the basil, cut or pull up the entire plant. Gently tear off the leaves from the stems. To maintain the basil flavor, do not tear the leaves.

One of the ways to preserve basil is to dry it. Wash the basil leaves and spread them out on a dry towel. After a few hours, move the basil to a screen and place in the sun. It may take a few days for the basil to become brittle and dry. When using dried basil, crush the dried leaves to release the aromatic oils.

Another easy way to preserve basil is to freeze it. Wash the basil and spread it out on a dry towel. Pat dry with a towel, and wait one hour until the basil is thoroughly dry. The basil should be dry, but not wilted. Place the basil in a freezer container and store in the freezer. When ready to use the frozen basil, crush the leaves to release the aromatic oils.

Making Pesto
Pesto is a sauce that originated in Genoa, Italy. The word, pesto, comes from the Genoese word, pesta, which refers to the pounding and crushing of the pesto ingredients in a mortar and pestle.

I make a lot of pesto every year and freeze it for use in marinara sauces, soups, pasta salads, pasta dishes, chili, and vegetable dishes. It is versatile enough to be used in many types of dishes.

Basic Pesto Recipe
2 cups basil
1/4 cup pine nuts
3 garlic cloves
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil

Place basil in a food processor and mix for about one minute. Add the next three ingredients and mix again. Then, drizzle olive oil while mixing to finish off the pesto.

I store the basil in freezer containers and freeze them.

There are many variations to the basic recipe:
- Add 1/4 cup of parsley to add some complexity to the basic pesto flavor.
- Substitute pine nuts with walnuts, almonds, cashews, or hazelnuts.
- For spinach pesto, substitute the basil with spinach and add only 1/4 cup of basil.
- Asiago or feta cheese can be used instead of parmesan.
- Pesto can be made with other herbs as well. Substitute the basil with oregano, cilantro, thyme, mint, tarragon, or rosemary.
- A tablespoon of lemon zest or white wine can also be added to the pesto for flavoring.

Note: For a lower fat version, reduce the olive oil to 1/4 cup. The pesto will not be as saucy, but the flavor will still be as delicious.

© Michelle A. Potter

Michelle A. Potter is a writer, Master Gardener, and blogger living on the east coast. She is the author of the book, The Complete Saving Source Catalog: A Guide to Saving the Earth and Money. With thirty years gardening experience, she has created an organic vegetable garden, herb garden, perennial bed, and cottage garden on her 1/2 acre lot. The Sage Butterfly, her blog, is a creative reflection of her gardening–and the beauty and wisdom of nature.

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.

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