Monday, July 26, 2010

Starting to Harvest: Basil - lovely to have in February!

A Bouquet of Basil!
Hi Foodies in Philly.  Well it was quite a couple of days that's for sure - we started out frying and by yesterday afternoon we were enjoying what my frienbor (friend and neighbor) Craig calls, "real summer".  Given the heat and the fact that we had to give in and turn the AC on, we decided to use the weekend to start harvesting and preparing some of our - and other's - gardens' and farms' output.

The Fair Food Farmstand and some of the Lancaster County folks provided a collection of heirloom tomatoes, as well as some more fabulous corn and squash - the glory of this time of year.  If you haven't made a tomato salad with a mix of heirlooms using Jamie Oliver's "Mothership of all Tomato Salads" recipe, we believe it is the ultimate way to give these delicious tomatoes their due - I will be posting that and other recipes on "Recipe Day" - Thursdays of each week for those who like to get an early start on their shopping lists!   Keep an eye out for Recipe Day and feel free to share.

Anyhow, this weekend we decided to start focusing on when it wasn't "this time of year" and what we would want in our freezer and larder for when the weather's cold and the farmstands are resting.

We started in our own "mini-farm" by harvesting some of the 4 kinds of Basil we are growing. The plants are huge. It has all absolutely loved this hot weather - Basil especially loves hot nights. We decided it was time for "Freezer Pesto".  The best way we have found is to make the pesto (use your favorite recipe of basil leaves, pine nutes, great parmesan and extra virgin olive oil)  and then pour the pesto mixture into ice cube trays.  Sit the trays in the freezer until the cubes freeze solid, pop the pesto cubes out of the tray and bag them up in good freezer storage bags.  You can use them throughout the fall and winter the way you would use any pesto - you may need a few cubes for a substantial recipe, so make sure you freeze yourself up a few large bags at least!!  Remember you don't have to grow your own Basil (although for we city folks it is an easy one to grow) - just buy some local at the Farmstands - or buy up a lot and go ahead and make your freezer stash.

Another way to store good fresh basil is to wash it, dry the plant well and then pull all of the leaves off of the stems.  Store the leaves in a good freezer storage bag.  The leaves will turn black and sad looking, very sad looking - BUT - they will taste just like fresh basil in sauces, eggs, anywhere you can "blend" them in.  Obviously these leaves aren't for finishing off a plate or for salads, but again, the flavor will remain - and all you need to defrost them is two or three minutes on the counter.

The last way that Basil can be stored up is by drying it.  This is my least favorite way - in my opinion, dry basil has very little of the glorious flavor we expect from this versatile herb.  That said, if you want to dry some, I suggest using the same technique as for oregano (which does dry well) and other similar structured herbs:  Cut the plants down; secure the stems together at the cut end with good kitchen twine and hang the bundle upside down somewhere cool and dry.  You will know when they are dry.  Then, it 's merely a matter of running your fingers down the stems to rub off the dry leaves into an air tight container.  Stems do NOT make for good storage and will cause early mold.  Do NOT hang your drying bundle outside - if it gets wet once it is into the drying process, it will be ruined and should go to the composter.

What do you like to preserve for those months during which we can't just run to the Farmers Markets or the back yard?

Share some of your favorites!


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