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What to do with Too Much Basil?

I want to make a whole bunch of pesto at the end of summer, so I planted (from seed) my favorite varietal; Genovese.

The "problem" is, because I have about 16 plants, just pinching off the flowers (must do this or plants begin to die) yields me a whole bunch of basil.

You can only add so much basil to salads, etc. Last night I tried placing the leaves in a Ziploc bag with olive oil, hoping to preserve them until I decide what to do with them.

Any ideas for using large quantities of basil, in a form that can be frozen (as my pesto is at summer's end)?

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  1. Even when you buy fresh basil there is too much of it. I pinch off all the leaves and put them in a sealed plastic container in the freezer. When I make a sauce from tomatoes I take a handful of frozen basil leaves and quickly crush them. They shatter into small pieces which I drop in my sauce.

    Granted, this is not long term storage but it works for getting five or six meals out of one purchase.

    I try to get basil not covered with sand. Rinsing the basil presents problems with freezing, although I have had to do it.

    I would appreciate any other tips on how to store basil.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Brian W

      Does your basil turn black in the freezer?
      (My coating the basil with olive oil was an attempt to keep it green.)

      1. re: Funwithfood

        No. It does turn black if I try keeping it in the refrigerator. I first tried the Tupperware solution about a year or so ago and I now keep basil in the freezer for a month or more and only use it about once a week or so. So far no black leaves, but I also discard any black leaves when I buy it fresh just to make sure.

        1. re: Brian W

          i've always had problems with basil and pesto turning black. Looking around the net, it seems many people swear by the following process...
          Blanch your basil leaves in boiling water for 10-15 seconds. Immediately transfer the leaves to an ice-water bath to cool quickly. Towel dry completely.
          Your pesto will now stay bright green.
          Aparently, the blanching leeches out the chemicals that cause basil to blacken.

          1. re: thorzdad

            Yes, my basil would turn black when I just left it open in the fridge or the freezer but what I do now is strip the leaves and put them in a sealed plastic container (Tupperware or equiv) and they last indefinitely in the freezer. They do tend to stain the container so use the same one all the time.

    2. Make pesto (leaving out the cheese) and freeze it. That'll concentrate a LOT of basil. I use those small round deli containers that hold about one cup. The pesto has a high enough fat content that you can cut it while frozen. 1/4 of a round is what I use for a 2-person serving of pasta.

      You can add parmesan when you cook it, but I've come to prefer pesto without it. Much as I adore parmesan, the basil flavor is brighter without the cheese.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Karen_Schaffer

        Oh sorry, I see you said you make pesto at the end of summer. You could still make just a basil paste (basil, olive oil, a little salt, maybe garlic) and freeze that.

        1. re: Karen_Schaffer

          Why wait until the end of summer? If you have the basil now, make it now and freeze it now.

      2. I turn all leftover basil into pesto which I store in the freezer. It's not as intensely aromatic as freshly made pesto, but it's a way to have pesto most of the year. I crush the leaves with garlic and salt, then puree with olive oil. That's it. After it's been turned into a freezer container, I make sure it's covered in oil which helps to keep it from freezer burn. When I'm ready to use, I let it defrost, add it to pasta and top with grated cheese.

        I've also kept some leaves in oil in the freezer, but they seem to lose too much fragrance to be a good substitute for fresh basil. JMO of course.

        1 Reply
        1. re: cheryl_h

          I've found that leaving out the garlic before freezing makes for brighter flavor. Pesto base, or a good base to use for lots of stuff.

          Last year, I froze two quarts of pesto base, defrosted about a week before Christmas, then added the nuts, garlic, cheese, and a little extra oil to make the final product (about doubled in volume). Everybody got pesto this year. :)

        2. What happens to the basil plants at the end of summer? do they die? I'm growning my first plant in our square foot garden outside. It's been wonderful but I can't use all of it. I'd love to grow it year round.

          2 Replies
          1. re: mrsmegawatt

            It's an annual, though if you're religious about deadheading, you can keep it going for a while. That said, the stems get woody and the summer leaves drop in the fall only to be replaced by smaller, less flavourful ones.

            1. re: carswell

              I always bring in one plant in a pot and put it in a sunny window. It does get quite leggy and the stem gets woody, but it's awfully nice to have a few leaves available at any time during the winter. It generally gets through the winter and spring until I can have them in the garden again (I live in NY).

          2. Storing it, I can't add to what others have said. But in immediate uses, a change of pace is to use it in Thai food. Make a Thai style fried rice and toss in a handful of basil leaves right at the end. The residual heat will be enough to wilt them and the aroma will be wonderful. Also the same with stir fried spicy basil chicken, recipe link below.


            1 Reply
            1. re: Louise

              This is one of my favorite Thai dishes and so easy to make. Dont forget the fried egg

            2. Agree with the basil purée suggestions. The purée can later be morphed into pesto or added to sauces. One of Montreal's most celebrated Italian cooks (featured in last March's Gourmet) insists that basil purée, whether pestoed or not, should never be frozen but kept in the fridge in a glass jar under a layer of olive oil; fwiw, I usually freeze mine.

              Another idea is basil syrup. Make a simple syrup from equal quantities of water and sugar (combine in a saucepan, bring to a boil and stir until the sugar has dissovled). Cool to room temp. Add rinsed basil leaves in the ratio of 1 bunch to 1.5 cups of syrup and blend into a purée. Allow to macerate 20-30 minutes, then strain through a fine mesh sieve and refrigerate (I assume it could also be frozen). Taking a cue from Brunoise restaurant ( www.brunoise.ca ), I pour it on vanilla panna cotta and garnish with passion fruit pulp, but I'm sure you could come up with other summery desserts and drinks where it'd be an inspired addition.

              2 Replies
              1. re: carswell

                Yes, the basil puree option does allow for lots of flexibility.

                Basil syrup sounds interesting.

                I wonder how basil sorbet would be--let's say spooned atop tomato soup. (Anyone have a recipe?)

                (Pesto oil is fantastic over tomato soup BTW.)

                P.S. Love your term "pestoed"! (something I would say :)

                1. re: Funwithfood

                  The basil syrup is indeed interesting. The panna cotta is Brunoise's flagship dish and is an inspired combination of flavours: surprising yet natural, as though it had always existed.

                  Basil sorbet is great. Here's a recipe (makes 1 1⁄2 cups):
                  - In a food processor purée 3/4 cup tightly pack basil leaves, 1 clove garlic, 1 1⁄2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 3 tablespoons dry white wine.
                  - Add 2/3 cup water and 1 slightly beaten egg white. Pour into a metal container and freeze until slushy.
                  - Process unitl light and fluffy. Return to the freezer to harden.
                  The recipe comes from James Murcko (at the time chef at SF's Cafe Bedford) and was published in 1984 in the prophetic *New American Chefs and Their Recipes*. Chef Bedford served a scoop of the sorbet in his cold tomato bisque.

              2. I use my extra basil to make infused olive oil. Fill a pot with as much basil as you can pack in(stems and all), pour in olive oil(EVO or pure your choice)to just cover the basil and put on a very low flame. Let it simmer until there is no more moisture coming from the basil, and then strain through a fine mesh sieve. If you end up making big amounts, store the bottled oil in the fridge to keep it for a longer time. It is fantastic to blend into mashed potatoes.

                1. I've been seeing lots of mixed drinks with basil this summer, yesterday it was gin and muddled basil - sort of a basil julip I guess.

                  1. You can layer the leaves in salt in a tightly sealed container to preserve them.

                    Make basil jelly to use as a savoury with roasted meats.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Candy

                      Do you have a recipe for basil jelly--sounds very intriguing.

                      (Do the basil leaves turn black when layered with salt?)

                    2. sounds like you are waiting too long to pinch and then taking off too much with your flowers. You should pinch out just the tip as soon as you see the bud starting to form. Once it starts to form the flowering structure, with the smaller leaves, etc, it will tend to get bitter.

                      You might want to consider doing a major pruning and making some of your pesto now - then feed the plants and they will have a chance to regrow lushly. that would probably slow down further flower formation.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: jen kalb

                        I like to pinch them hard, the plants get more bushy that way (which is probably why I have so much basil to trim flowers from!) I never let them actually flower--pinch them when the flower is just beginning to form.

                        Yes, I might need to do two rounds of "pesto making" this year...

                      2. A friend used equal amounts fresh basil & fresh spinach to wilt for a dinner veg and it was delicious! Smashed garlic in EVOO, wilt both greens and topped w/ toasted pine nuts. She said she saw it in some publication, couldn't remember the name. Served w/ salmon cakes and polenta - made a great meal.

                        1. Once upon a time, I ate at Hiro Sushi in Toronto and he served a really lovely basil ice cream at the end of the meal. I can only guess that you use a standard vanilla recipe but sub basil for the vanilla, but I can't be sure since ice cream is not one of those things I endeavour to make (though I would reconsider that if I got my hands on a recipe for this basil ice cream I'm talking about!). It gave the ice cream a lovely and delicate floral flavour... so good.

                          I went back to Hiro to have the ice cream again recently, but I think he tinkered with the formula. This time, the ice cream wasn't really "creamy" but was more like an "ice". The ice was no where near as good as the ice cream.

                          1. although this is more gardening related.. than cooking... but it does ensure fresh basil all summer.... but plant your basil 4-6 plants at time (or from seed) and stagger the start every 3-4 weeks. then you always have basil in some form of growth... then when the more mature plants get woody, you can rip them out and start some more. that and pinch off any flowers frequently.

                            too much basil is a wonderful problem to have. we make tons of pesto and freeze it. (i add a little lemon juice or vinegar to keep the flavor & color bright). we use it on sandwhiches, on pasta... everywhere.


                            1. This is slightly off-topic, but you might find it useful: Sarah Moulton said to store fresh basil: don't wash it, put it in a plastic bag, blow it up with air, seal with a twistie, and keep it at room temp. I didn't believe this until I tried it - the basil stayed green and fresh for over 2 weeks (it would have kept longer, but I used it all up!).

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Claudette

                                Never heard of that one, I'll give it a try and report back if it works.

                                1. re: Funwithfood

                                  Please DO report back. Fascinating.

                              2. Chop roughly and freeze in ice cube trays..with water of course. When you need basil for sauce...just throw a cube in the pan.

                                1. Update:
                                  Picked my basil in the early morning hours, then went to the market to purchase all I needed to make both basil ice cream and basil sorbet. Then the electricity went out...for 60 HOURS!!!!

                                  (I will report my findings after I re-hydrate here in SoCal, then re-purchase all my now-spoiled ingredients...)