The fried sage is strictly optional/extra credit here. While it does add a huge flavor boost and a delicate crunch (not to mention the presentation value), this dish is still delicious without...
Basil: Harvesting, Storing, and Preserving
Our basil plants have been the saving grace of our garden this year. Poor, first-year soil? Check. Drought? Check. Heat wave? Check. Rampant insects? Check. This summer has felt like the plagues of Egypt, and yet our basil not only grew, but it prospered mightily. Never wilted, never withered, never needed rescuing from insects or intense sun or blight. Our basil has behaved like a true lady.
To give you an idea of how massive and bushy our basil plants turned out to be, we had to cut the stalks with a machete after ruining (a.k.a. putting a dent in) a decently sharp, heavy-duty kitchen knife. We finally decided that it was time to harvest our basil before fall sets in. We didn’t really know what we were getting into, and we spent the better part of nine hours dealing with the ramifications of the harvest. If we had started at 9 a.m. that wouldn’t have been a big deal, but we leisurely began at around 3 p.m. I don’t think we realized what we were in for until we had stripped the leaves from the plants and had a garbage bag full.
Basil is a very tender herb. Despite the fact that it’s as tough as Attila the Hun in the garden (at least in our garden), once picked, basil wilts at an alarming rate. Meaning, when you pick basil, plan on using it the same day. If you must keep it for a day or two, either stick the stems directly in a vase of water or, if you only have the de-stemmed leaves, wrap them in a damp paper towel and place them in a plastic bag in the crisper.
A simple way of dealing with excess basil is to chop it fine with a very sharp knife (basil bruises easily) and whirl it in a food processor with a few tablespoons of olive oil (depending on how much basil you treat in this way, you will need to add oil accordingly). Then, simply pour the shredded basil into containers or ice cube trays and freeze. As you need a hit of fresh basil flavor throughout the winter, it will be easy enough to pull out a cube of basil and toss it into your stew or use it in a salad dressing.
You can also make a simple basil butter. If you remember my post on browned sage butter, this follows the same basic idea, but happens to be a lot simpler. Allow your unsalted butter to come to room temperature. You can make your butter as strongly flavored or mild as you like—we’ve opted for the stronger side as we have so much basil to use. A good average is 3 cups packed basil leaves, finely chopped per pound of butter. In a stand mixer or by hand, whip the butter until light and fluffy. Chop your basil leaves finely and add them to the butter, beating further to distribute the basil evenly throughout the butter. Then, simply divide the butter in fourths, place each fourth on a sheet of wax or parchment paper, and roll it up tightly. Place in a plastic freezer bag and freeze until you need it. This is excellent on toast, in eggs, as a finishing butter for meats and vegetables, and in pretty much anything savory.