Basil can be a bit picky about how it's handled. If you're trimming it incorrectly it will never produce like you'd like. When harvesting basil, trim just above a set of leaves. Frequent harvesting will encourage new growth.
See the flowers starting to grow at the top of this stem? Pinch them off! When the basil plant begins to flower it's nearing the end... but, you can prolong it's life by pinching the flowers off daily. (Save the flowers... they're completely edible. Chop and use them in recipes with the leaves.)
It's best to harvest basil in the morning, when the essential oils are at their strongest. The basil will have a stronger flavor than if you harvest later, during the heat.
It's best to use fresh basil immediately, but it can keep for a few days if stored refrigerated, on the stems in a jar of water, covered with a zip-lock bag. Basil can also be frozen. Frozen basil will discolor, but still taste fine. Basil may also be chopped finely and mixed into butter, then frozen. A cube of basil butter is fantastic on top of a grilled steak or a potato.
Want to start a new basil plant, or a few to share with friends? Basil is very easy to propagate. Just cut a piece about 3 to 4 inches long, cutting it just below a cluster of leaves. Remove most of the leaves since these will zap energy from the new plant. The basil cutting can be placed in a glass of water if you'd like the kids to see the roots grow before you plant it, but it isn't necessary. I stick basil cutting into the dirt immediately. Water well and they take off!
Basil is my favorite herb and has so many uses. Wrap it around cheese or skewer it with a cherry tomato for a quick appetizer. It's fabulous added to salads, or chopped and baked into bread.
This is one of my favorite recipes using basil: Panzanella Salad with Grilled Chicken
When my basil starts growing faster than we can eat it, I make a big batch of pesto and freeze it for a quick addition to pasta or veggies. Pesto freezes well, up to a year.
2 or 3 peeled garlic cloves
¼ cup pine nuts (or walnuts)
4 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Put the garlic cloves and nuts in a food processor or blender and whirl until coarsely chopped. Rinse and drain the fresh basil leaves; patting dry. Add basil and Parmesan. Blend while drizzling olive oil into the mixture, until smooth. If using blender, stop to push basil down into blades as needed. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Makes 1 ½ cups
To freeze pesto, line a baking sheet with waxed paper and spoon ¼-cup mounds of pesto onto the sheet. Place the baking sheet into the freezer. When frozen solid, wrap them individually in plastic, seal them in an airtight plastic container, and store them in the freezer. Freeze smaller portions of pesto in ice trays, wrapping the individual cubes in the same manner.If you want pure basil flavor, process fresh basil with olive oil in a food processor until it forms a paste, and freeze.
Have a basil recipe you love? Please feel free to share it in the comments, or leave a link.