We all have good intentions. Recently I was perusing well-known quotes on ‘good intentions’ when I came across one that I liked from Jeffery Kluger, a senior writer at Time Magazine. It reads as follows: “There’s a deep-freeze of sorts for all good intentions—a place that you store your plans to make changes in your life when you know you’re not going to make them at all.”
This blog entry is about making good on ‘good intentions’ which may incidentally involve a deep freeze. Every year I plant at least four different types of basil. I do this partially for experimental purposes, though mostly because I love having fresh basil around in the summer. But how often do I actually use it?
That is where good intentions come in. Often basil from my garden or from the store lies around the kitchen before it is all used up. I am ridiculously frivolous and wasteful when it comes to basil. Try as I might, there is something about summer that just does it to me. I swear I will be more vigilant and still it blackens and wilts before my eyes.
What, then, can be done to excess basil to ensure that it is put it to good use throughout the year? When I buy or pick a large bundle of basil, the first thing I generally do is stick the long stems in a glass of water to keep it hydrated. I use it like a vase arrangement and place it on the corner of my kitchen counter at arm’s length from my cutting board.
When I store my basil in this manner it stays fresh for somewhere around five days. It is important to keep the basil out of direct, hot sunlight. It will last much longer if kept in a cool, shady area. I also remove any leaves that fall below the water line so that the water stays fresh and doesn’t suffer from bacterial buildup that will shorten the lifespan of the basil.
During the heat of the summer or for those warmer Indian summer days, my kitchen often stays too warm for the basil and it starts to look ratty in about three days. My antidote during the heat is to place the basil in a Ziploc bag with a damp paper towel and store it in one of my refrigerator’s crisper drawers. This way the basil is protected from the cold of the fridge yet it still retains it freshness, lasting for up to a week. If you don’t have Ziplocks handy, one of my colleagues uses produce or green bags and swears by them.
While some herbs dry well, others lose their flavor and are best frozen. Basil, as with parsley, lemon balm, chervil, and chives, retains a better flavor when frozen. An easy way to freeze herbs is to chop them up and place them in ice cube trays. Fill with water and remove the herbal ice cubes when frozen, storing them in a freezer bag. They will be at their best for about 6 months.
You can also make a half pesto and freeze it. By half pesto I mean a traditional pesto with the cheese omitted. Cheese doesn’t freeze well, so leave it out of the recipe and add it when you defrost and are ready to use the pesto. Pine nuts are my favorite in pesto, but they are usually pricey—walnuts can easily be substituted. Of course, pesto is not just basil these days, either. Add your favorite herbs to give it your own unique flavor. Over my summer holiday we grilled steak and ate it with a cilantro pesto that was out of this world.
Enjoy your herbal harvests this season and feel free to write in and share your favorite recipe or a new herb you grew this summer. In my garden, we had a lovely anise-flavored basil named ‘Siam Queen’, a tall, variegated basil named ‘Pesto Perpetuo’, and a dark-leaved basil named ‘Amethyst’. My favorite basil this season was a small-leaved spicy globe basil that had a stunning flavor and was perfect when cut and tossed into salads as a flavor boost.
Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.