Planting a row of basil in my kitchen garden gave me plenty of fresh leaves during the summer months for immediate use.
It is so delightful to pick my own organic vegetables and herbs straight from the garden to the kitchen.
The flavors cannot be any better. Trying to save these garden fresh herb flavors for the winter months is a little more tricky. Basil is a delicate herb and the flavors can be easily lost with processing. For optimal flavor pick basil leaves just before they bloom and process them immediately after cutting. Plants can be susceptible to blights and fungus so wait until the garden plants are dry to harvest leaves.
Cut or pinch off individual leaves or entire branches. I usually prune my plants at this time. The plants will produce more branches and you can get multiple harvests this way. After picking wash the leaves if needed and spin in a salad spinner to remove as much water as possible. If you grow your own, and inspect the leaves you can opt not to wash them first. Try not to bruise the leaves as this causes the flavor to leach out. Cut the leaves off the stems and lay out on a tray to air dry. If you do not have a dehydrator or an oven that has a low temperature setting of 170 degrees or less you can set them out to air dry. If air drying turn them over after one day to make sure they are completely dry. Once dry place them whole in a glass container and seal with a lid. Do not break the leaves up until use as this causes the flavors to leach out. A really fast way to dry them out is to place the tray in a hot car on a sunny day. It only takes an afternoon this way. Do not place in direct sunlight as this will fade the colors.
Freezing Flat in a ziplock bag
Using the same harvesting methods above chop the basil in a food processor or by hand. I process mine very chunky and add some cold pressed olive oil and the juice of a fresh lime or lemon. For every one cup of puree add about 1/4 cup olive oil. The lemon is optional but may help preserve the color. Place about a cup of puree into a quart sized ziplock bag. Press flat and seal. Flattening out the bag does two things. It makes for easy stacking in the freezer and causes the puree to be easily breakable. Simply cut or break off a chunk as needed and place the rest back into the freezer.
Freezing in Ice cube trays
This method is exactly as above but place the puree into ice cube trays. I have dedicated some trays for this very purpose. Trying to reuse them for ice cubes makes for some very interesting icy flavors. Once frozen remove from trays and place into a ziplock bag and freeze.
After all my experiments I like the freezing flat ziplock method best. It saves me time, uses less resources and stacks better in the freezer. I also find that the cubes break apart when removing them from the trays and if you do not individually wrap them in wax paper they will stick together in the freezer bags. I always dry some herbs. They stay safe placed in a glass jar and I use them as my back up plan. The flavors are not as fresh as frozen herbs but sadly, I have had entire freezers unthaw.