There are some herbs that I think are pretty decent when dried (what’s up, sage), but others, like basil, parsley and cilantro, just aren’t even worth it to use dried, in my opinion. That is why I try to make sure to freeze up the fresh herbs when they are coming off in the summer to use all winter long. Making minestrone? Toss a couple of cubes of frozen basil in, and BAM, it tastes like August. Same goes for marinara sauce. Having frozen cubes of basil is like a time machine to summer.
A lot of people freeze basil in pesto form, and that’s totally fine, but I like the simplicity and flexibility of just freezing basil solo. It’s a breeze to do, and you can do as much or as little as you want at a time. Basil plants grow better when you’re constantly picking from them—so every few weeks, do a heavy harvest, freeze the bounty, and then repeat until your freezer is stocked with fresh-frozen herbs. Let me show you how to freeze basil, and just how simple it is.
How to Freeze Basil
First up, you gotta do some picking. I tend to clip whole stems from my basil plants, but you could also just pick individual leaves. If you do choose to clip whole stems, you’ll want to pick off all the leaves and then compost the woody stems. If it’s one of the thinner, tender stems toward the top of the plant, you are fine to leave it intact.
Don’t worry if the leaves aren’t in perfect shape. A few brown spots aren’t going to hurt anyone. Once you have all your leaves off, wash and dry your basil. I like to just fill a sink with cold water, swish the leaves around, and then dry them in a salad spinner.
Your food processor is your friend for freezing herbs. I use a cheap-o Hamilton Beach (this one) that I’ve had for years—she’s an oldie but a goodie. Load up the food processor with as many basil leaves will fit (or as many as you have). Really pack ’em in there. Then drizzle in a little olive oil. You don’t need a ton, just enough to make sure things move smoothly. I’d say I use about a teaspoon per cup of packed basil leaves. The olive oil not only helps the basil out in the food processor, but it also helps “seal” in the oils in the leaves when it goes in the freezer. Plus, it adds a nice bit of richness when you plop a cube into your spaghetti sauce!
Pulse the basil until it’s roughly chopped. You may need to stop and scrape the sides of your food processor down to make sure everything is evenly chopped. Then repeat. Add more basil and more oil and pulse. Continue until you’ve either used up all your basil or your food processor is full (that’d be A TON of basil—lucky you!).
Don’t freak out if your basil starts to look really dark green (even almost black) during this process. Basil leaves bruise incredibly easy, and after all the trauma of multiple trips ’round the food processor, they’ll look a bit battered. It’s okay, they’ll still taste awesome!
Next, you’ll want to load your basil into either ice cube trays—I highly recommend silicone ones because they are easier to deal with once the cubes are frozen—or special herb freezing trays. I have two herb freezing trays from Ball Canning (they sent them to me to try out years ago), and I LOVE them. You can make nice big cubes of herbs in them that are really easy to get out once they are frozen. And they come with lids. I also may or may not use these suckers as toddler plates—Juni loves that I fill each of the nine cubbies with different finger foods.
I digress. Regardless of if you use herb trays or ice cube trays, pack the cavities with the basil mixture. Really push down to make sure there isn’t a lot of air in the cube (air=freezer burn). Level out the top of cubes, and then pour a thin layer of olive oil on top to seal. This will really go a long way to help keep the basil tasting fresh for many, many months.
Cover the tray, and then freeze it in a flat spot in your freezer until the cubes are solid. I usually let them freeze overnight— it takes awhile to get them really solid. Then, I bring them out, pop out the cubes, and transfer them into a labeled zip-top freezer bag.
That’s it! Done! It’ll stay in good shape for at least six months in the freezer. Use these little cubes of awesomeness in sauces, pasta dishes, soups—anywhere, really!
How to Freeze Other Herbs
I do this same process with cilantro, parsley, and chives. I make sure to stock my freezer door with zip-top bags of herb cubes by the end of summer—it really does make all the difference to help make dishes taste fresh in the middle of winter. And, of course, buying fresh herbs in the middle of winter makes my wallet cry (five dollars for 1/3 cup? SERIOUSLY?!)—so this is a serious budget-saver if you’re a fan of fresh herbs. Happy freezing!