Maybe you need to save your summer surplus for winter, or maybe you just need to be super organised with your time and make a whole batch of basil-ready-for pesto. Either way, the trick is to keep that brilliant green colour and as much of the basil flavour as possible. We’ve found the best way is to quickly blanch the leaves, whiz them with a bit of olive oil, then freeze the result.
Blanch the leaves
Blanching means to dip the basil leaves in a pot of boiling water just long enough for them to wilt, usually about 15 seconds. It’s a good idea to dip the blanched leaves straight away into another pot of cold water to stop them cooking. Here’s what they should like like when they’re done. You’ll see we’ve left the leaves on the stems for this step: it’s easier to retrieve a basil leaf from boiling water if a stem is attached, believe me.
Blend the leaves with oil and freeze
Now you can pick the leaves off the stems and let them dry. Pop the leaves into a blender or food processor and slowly drizzle in the oil while they’re being mashed to a pulp. Do this for as short a time as possible, and use only enough oil to coat the leaves (unless you are planning on making pesto, of course). Transfer the basil-oil blend into ice cub trays and freeze. Your basil-ice cubes should still have an attractive, but slightly darker green colour:
We’ve tried drying basil in the food dehydrator before, but it doesn’t keep either its colour or flavour as much as we need for the comfort food those cold winter nights demand. It was a bit of a disappointment really:
For a traditional approach
If you need to buy basil in winter, but can’t use the whole bunch straight away, then the easiest thing to do is to hang the bunch in a dry spot (not in the kitchen) and use the dried leaves as you need them. It is closest to the thousands-of-years-old traditional method, but we don’t really have the room to do it on the scale required to preserve enough for the coming winter.