Preparing a meal with fresh, bright-green basil makes you feel like a great chef, even if you are just tossing the chopped leaves into pasta or a salad. Whether you buy a basil bunch at the grocery or cut some sprigs from your garden, you are likely to have more than you need for a meal. Fortunately, there is a simple way to store the remaining basil to keep it fresh, fragrant and beautiful. And if that doesn't work for you, there are a few variations on the theme to help you store America's favorite fresh herb.
Treat Basil Bouquets Like Flowers
Whether you get your basil stalks by taking scissors to garden plants or at the fresh herb section of a market, the basil isn't very different from cut flowers. If you leave cut flowers on the kitchen counter for 24 hours, they lose moisture and wilt. Just so, basil stalks wilt and die quickly if you don't treat them as cut plants.
The very best way to store fresh basil is to treat it like a bouquet of cut flowers. Using a kitchen scissor, snip 1/2 inch off the stems. Then put about several inches of cool water in a jar or glass, and arrange the basil stems in it. It looks pretty and livens up your kitchen if you keep it on the counter. At room temperature, it will stay fresh anywhere from a few days to a week.
Cover the Bouquet in Plastic
If you care more about keeping the basil fresh long term and less about making your cooking area look like an Italian country kitchen, you can try another option. Actually, it's a variation of the "basil bouquet" option, because you have to trim the stem ends and put the stalks in a glass of cool water.
This variation on a theme suggests that you cover the bouquet of basil loosely with a plastic bag or a perforated plastic bag or wrap. Those who advise this option argue that the plastic locks in the moisture to keep the plants fresh, while giving an exit route to the ethane gas the plant produces that can rot the leaves. This arrangement, left at room temperature, may keep basil fresh for a whopping two weeks.
Stock the Bouquet in the Refrigerator
While some experts argue that refrigeration turns basil leaves black or causes the plant stems to rot quickly, others claim that refrigerating fresh basil will prolong its life. In fact, commercial growers are told to wrap basil in plastic, seal the bags and keep them cool, at some 40 to 45 degrees F, to maximize its shelf life.
Freeze Fresh Basil
Once you freeze fresh basil, a good argument can be made that it isn't fresh anymore. However, if you need basil to keep for longer than two weeks, you'll have to freeze it. Freezing basil is considered the best way to store it for long periods while retaining its pungent flavor.
Before you toss the herb cuttings in the freezer, rinse them under cool water and pat them dry. Give the leaves time to air dry completely. Once no water remains on the leaves, place them in a plastic bag; remove the excess air and seal the bag. Then pop it in your freezer.
Anther freezing option is to puree the fresh leaves into a paste in your kitchen blender. Pour the basil paste into an ice cube tray and freeze. Whichever method you choose, your frozen basil should be good for an entire year.
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