Preserving Summer’s Bounty: Dried Basil

November 3, 2011 § 4 Comments

We have 22 containers of pesto preserved in the frosty depths of our freezer. Even though I’m a pesto-eating champ (case in point: for snack-time I eat dollops of pesto on carrots; I pour an extra quarter-cup on top of my already-seasoned pasta), I’ve run out of Tupperware.

Instead of processing my most recent harvest into a sauce, I dried it.  That way I’ll have basil-flavor handy for dishes where pesto is unwarranted (do those exist?) or when the green goddess shmear runs out.

Home-dried basil is a zillion times more potent and scrumptious than its cardboard-flavored cousin on the spice rack in the supermarket.  What’s more, when you dry it yourself, you make bank.  (CHA-ching!)  To illustrate: We have multiple basil plants in our garden.  On average, one plant will yield three to four harvests of 9-12 cups of basil leaves.  I harvested all of what you see above & below from one plant.  Two weeks later I had over a pint of dried leaves.  This week I’ve used my dried basil in two soups and a frittata and the taste is to-live-for-good.  Here’s how easy it is:

STEP 1. Snip-snip: When harvesting basil for pesto, for cooking or drying, cut back the whole plant, stems included.  Giving your basil plant a big haircut will allow the plant to regrow stems, preventing them from hardening and turning woody.

STEP 2. Clean as a Whistle:  Gently wash each stem in a sink basin full of water to remove any dirt or dust. Give each stem a little shake and let them air dry on the counter top for several hours.

STEP 3. Twisty-tie Time: When the leaves and stems have dried, group stems into bundles and turn upside down.  Use a twisty-tie (or hemp or strong string) to tie the stems together at the base.  I usually tie four or five stems in each group.  Be mindful not to group too many stems together; there should be some breathing room between each stem so that all the leaves can properly dry out.

STEP 4. Forget about ’em: Clip each bundle to a drying rack (like below) or use a string and tie each bundle to  a hanger.  Place in a cool, dry place for a couple of weeks.

STEP 5. After two weeks, start checking in: When two weeks have come and gone, check your basil every few days. When all the leaves are crispy and not a bit damp, unclip/untie each bundle.
STEP 6. Perfume your hands with basil: Over a large sheet pan or wide-rimmed bowl, pull all the dried leaves off of each stem.  Break them down slightly and place in a clean, dry glass jar.  (I like mason jars with air-tight lids, ensuring freshness.)
STEP 7. Get cookin’: Your dried basil is now ready to use.  To eek out the most flavor and release aromatic oils, break the leaves down in your hands just before using.
Diet Notes: SCD-safe, Vegan, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free

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