Freezing Basil can be an effective way to preserve more of the taste of this herb, allowing more of the oils to remain in the leaves. It is easy to do at home with equipment you already have in your kitchen. Pesto is one of the most popular culinary treats that is easy to freeze and can be available upon short notice for a last minute pasta dish on those days when you have unexpected company or are too busy to cook a full meal. It is loaded with vitamins and goes well over pasta or used as a flavoring in sauces, including those for meats and fish.
The absolute BEST way to preserve both the flavor and color of basil is Pesto, a common Italian sauce made with fresh basil, garlic, olive oil and Pignolia nuts (pine nuts). It freezes well and allows basil to keep fresher than any other preservation method. The traditional method of grinding the basil, garlic, oil and pignolia nuts into a paste with a mortar and pestle took quite a lot of time and elbow grease. Today, the process is sped up considerably with the aid of a blender or food processor.
For Pesto, you will need:
Place basil leaves and garlic into the food processor bowl with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and blend. Stop the processor occasionally to scrape down the sides of the work bowl. Blend into a thick paste. Add the roasted pine nuts and blend again, stopping the processor occasionally to scrape down the bowl to assure complete blending of all of the ingredients. Slowly dribble the remaining olive oil into the bowl while the processor is running, blending all ingredients into a smooth paste. Add fresh ground pepper and sea salt to taste and add the grated cheese. Pulse the processor a few times to mix well.
To Roast Pignolia Nuts: Place the nuts onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and place in the oven preheated to 350 degrees. Shake the pan occasionally to turn the nuts and bake until browned, approximately 5 or 6 minutes. Keep a close eye on the nuts, as they brown rather quickly.
To Freeze: Lightly oil an ice cube tray, making sure each compartment is coated with olive oil. Spoon the pesto into each compartment, filling to the top. After all of the pesto has been spooned into the cube compartments, top off each compartment with olive oil to seal. This will help prevent the basil from turning brown from oxidation during the freezing process. Lightly cover the entire tray with a strip of wax paper or cling wrap and place on a level freezer rack. After the pesto has frozen solid, approximately 4 hours or so, run a kitchen knife down the sides of the compartments, popping the pesto cube out. Place the cubes in a tightly sealed freezer bag and return to the freezer.
To serve: While the water is coming to a boil for the pasta, slowly heat up a large pot big enough to hold the cooked pasta after it has been drained. Place one cube per serving in the cooking pot and gently warm to thaw. (Low heat is best...otherwise the basil will cook and turn darker.) When the pasta is ready, add a little (1/4 cup) of the hot pasta water into the pesto pot and drain the pasta. Add the drained pasta to the pesto and toss to combine. Dish onto plates and grate additional Parmesan cheese over the plate and serve with garlic bread.
The traditional method of freezing basil is to chop the fresh herb up fine and suspend them in a little water before freezing.
1. Pick through the fresh basil removing damaged leaves and tough stems and rinse. Gently spin dry or pat dry between two kitchen towels to remove as much moisture as possible.
2. Chop up the basil, removing tough stems, and place a teaspoon or two into each compartment of the ice cube trays.
3. Top off with water and freeze in the freezer.
STORAGE: Once the ice cubes have frozen, remove the herbed cubes and store in an air tight freezer bag or jar in your freezer.
USES: These basil ice cubes can be used in sauces and soups. To use in the basil as fresh in salad dressings or dishes with little liquid content, place the cube in a glass of room temperature water until melted and strain through a sieve to remove the basil from the water. Add to the recipe as required.
This method allows for great color, texture and flavor retention by keeping the sprigs whole and air tight.
1. Wash and gently spin dry or blot with kitchen towels to remove excess moisture.
2. Snip or cut off tough woody stems and discolored or damaged leaves.
3. Make a bag from the roll material large enough to hold the sprigs of basil and allow space between the herb and the final seal and seal one end.
4. Label bag with contents and date sealed.
5. Place the sprigs onto a sheet of wax paper, sprinkle with olive oil and gently spread onto the leaves with the pastry brush to coat the leaves. This helps to protect the tender leaves during the freezing process.
6. Place herb sprigs, coated with a thin coat of olive oil, into the bag.
7. Place bag end into the sealer and vacuum seal.
8. Place in the freezer flat. After the bags have frozen solid, they can be stored upright, taking up little space in the freezer.