A reader recently wrote “I have an abundance of fresh basil this year. Is it possible to freeze fresh basil?”

Yes, you can freeze fresh basil leaves, but they just need a little help.

Basil is a particularly delicate herb because it hates the cold and darkens when cut. Keep in mind any fresh herbs that you freeze will not be entirely the same as fresh. Freezing will change the texture and it won’t be as stable. The basil will be suitable for adding to soups, stews and sauces. But you won’t be able to, say, garnish a dish with a fresh-looking basil leaf.

When preparing any fresh herb for long-term storage, it’s best to rinse and dry it well first. This rids it of any dirt. You can easily rinse herbs by running them under cool water. Or you can swish them around in a bowl of water. If you have a salad spinner, you can dry the leaves that way, too.

Here are several ways to preserve fresh basil:

— Freeze leaves whole. Have ready boiling water and a bowl of cold water. Blanch the leaves in boiling water for 3-5 seconds. Yes, seconds. You don’t want to cook them. Blanching helps retain basil’s nice green color. Use a strainer or slotted spoon to remove them and place in the cold water for several seconds to cool down and stop the cooking. Remove the leaves from the cold water bath and dry well on paper towel. Here’s where a salad spinner comes in handy. You can use it to dry the leaves. Once dry, place layers of basil leaves, separated by parchment paper, in a freezer bag. Place flat in the freezer.

— Puree leaves. Wash and dry basil leaves. Place them in a food processor and puree with a bit of oil. Then transfer the pureed leaves to ice cube trays and freeze until solid. Pop frozen basil cubes out of the tray and place in a plastic bag. The basil work best for soups and stews. Add it during the last bit of cooking time. You can also tear or coarsely chop basil leaves, place them in an ice cube tray and cover with water and freeze and store the same way.

— Dry leaves. Wash and dry leaves well. Arrange them on a baking sheet and place in the oven on its lowest setting. My home oven’s lowest temperature is 170 degrees. Bake until thoroughly dry so you can crumble the leaves. Once crumbled, store in an airtight container. Use in soups and stews and as an ingredient in homemade vinaigrette.

— Make pesto. This is probably one of the best ways to make use of fresh basil. Having garden-fresh pesto on hand in the freezer can lighten up the doldrums of winter. In a food processor, combine 2 cups of packed basil leaves, 2 garlic cloves, salt to taste, 1/4 cup toasted almonds, pine nuts or walnuts and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese; process until the ingredients are chopped.

With the machine running, add about 6 tablespoons olive oil (or more as needed) until the mixture is smooth, but still somewhat paste-like. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Spoon the mixture into ice cube trays and freeze. Once frozen, pop out the individual cubes and place them in a freezer bag and freeze; they’ll keep at least 6 months. Use in pasta dishes and in soups or serve as is.

If you need inspiration for using fresh basil now, try today’s recipes.

Be sure to use fresh herbs in this recipe — dried basil, marjoram and oregano just won’t do. Use more fresh basil if you like.

Broiled Tomatoes with Parmesan and Herbs

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

  • 4 large ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons reduced-fat mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon real bacon bits
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon snipped fresh basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon snipped fresh marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon snipped fresh oregano

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Slice each tomato into 3 equal slices. Place slices between paper towels to absorb some moisture; set aside.

In a small bowl, combine mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, mayonnaise, bacon bits, pepper, garlic, basil, marjoram and oregano. Mix well. Place tomato slices on a large sheet pan and spread each slice with 2 teaspoons herbed cheese mixture. Bake 10 to 15 minutes. Change oven setting to broil and continue cooking until cheese mixture is golden brown, about 2 to 3 additional minutes. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings (2 tomato slices per serving).

Nutrition information per serving: 87 calories (52 percent from fat), 5 g fat (2 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 6 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 195 mg sodium, 10 mg cholesterol, 110 mg calcium, 6 g fiber. Food exchanges: 1 vegetable, 1 fat.

Pasta with Roasted Vegetables and Basil

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

  • 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1-1/2-inch cubes
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • Favorite all-purpose seasoning
  • 4 yellow summer squash or zucchini (about 1-1/4 pounds total), cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 medium red or white onions, halved and sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, rinsed
  • 8 ounces short pasta, such as cavatappi or fusilli
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1 cup torn fresh basil leaves or more to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Have ready 2 large (10-by-15-inch) rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil on one large rimmed baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the oven while it’s preheating. Prepare all the vegetables.

When the oven is preheated, remove the baking sheet and quickly add the eggplant cubes and garlic to the baking sheet (they will sizzle) and season with salt, pepper and seasoning. Using tongs, toss quickly, but carefully because the oil is hot. Return to the oven and roast until the eggplant is just tender, but not mushy, about 20 minutes.

On the other baking sheet, place summer squash or zucchini, onions and tomatoes. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and seasoning. Toss to coat. Place in the oven and roast until the vegetables are just tender and still hold their shape, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta, and cook until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain, and return to pot.

Add vegetables, butter, Parmesan and basil to pasta; season with salt and pepper, and toss gently to combine. Serve with more cheese if desired.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 474 calories (38 percent from fat), 20 g fat (7 g saturated fat), 60 g carbohydrates, 16 g protein, 626 mg sodium, 24 mg cholesterol, 6 g fiber.

Tomato, Artichoke and Basil Pasta

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 pound short pasta such as campanelle
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 thinly sliced garlic cloves
  • 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, rinsed, patted dry
  • 1/2 jar (6 ounces) marinated quartered artichoke hearts with some liquid
  • 8-ounce container fresh mozzarella (cherry size)
  • 1/2 cup shredded basil leaves plus small leaves for garnish
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with a generous tablespoon of kosher salt. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente — just slightly firm to the bite. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and sauté about 5 minutes or until they just begin to burst. Add the artichokes with some liquid from the jar (about 1/4 cup). Cook another 5 minutes to heat through.

Place the cooked pasta in a large serving bowl. Scrape the tomatoes and artichokes into the pasta and toss. If the mixture seems too dry, add some of the reserved pasta cooking water. Add the fresh mozzarella and basil leaves. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Makes 4 servings.

Test Kitchen is Tribune News Service column by Susan Selasky, the food writer and Test Kitchen director for the Detroit Free Press, where she develops and tests recipes and answers readers’ questions about all things food. Contact her at sselasky@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @SusanMariecooks

Sign up for TheIndependent.com Email Alerts

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.
Load comments