If your garden is looking anything like ours is at this point in the season, the herbs are beginning to wane and you’re quickly realizing the time has come to clip your herbs for the last time, drying or freezing them to use through the long winter ahead.
We have multiples of the smaller pots along the balcony railing, but we also always have one huge pot of basil. By the time I took these outdoor photos, we had already pulled the basil up – the cooler nights just did it in! However, that didn’t stop me from being able to preserve the basil for drying – although perhaps not in the way you might think.
During the season, when I find that the plants shoot off those long blooming stems from the top, I clip them and pop them into a jar of white wine vinegar, yielding a wonderfully scented basil vinegar that gives a beautiful flavor to salad dressings and vinaigrettes. Sometimes I’ll even strip the stems and toss the bits in with my salad greens or as garnish on finished dishes for little bursts of flavor.
But a couple of years ago, as the season drew to a close, I had a good number of blooming basil stems to reap from the plants. With plenty of basil vinegar to see me through and too many blooming stems to keep fresh once I cut them off, I decided to try drying them to see what would happen. You see, I’ve never had a lot of luck drying basil leaves; they just never seem to preserve any semblance of that marvelous flavor, so I thought this might actually be an option. Well, I ended up with the most amazingly fragrant dried basil that I could have ever wished for! And it was oh-so-simple to do.
Clip the blooming stems from the plant, keeping them as long or as short as you wish. Give them a rinse under cool water and tap them gently with a towel to absorb excess water.
You may notice some of the pods have actually popped, producing little white flowers.
These white flowers are such a bonus gift from your plant! Gently pull the white flowers off with your fingers and spread them out on a parchment-lined tray to dry.
The flowers dry out much more quickly than the rest of the stem, needing only about 24 hours. You really need to taste one! They are tiny, but mighty, with a gorgeous sweetness that I find is perfect on top of baked goods: think muffins or olive oil cake for a subtle burst of flavor. You won’t regret putting these little dried gems in a jar!
As for the remaining pods and tiny leaves on the stems, just lay them out on a baking rack set over a parchment-lined try to dry. Placing the stems on the rack allows air to circulate all around them and they will dry more quickly than if they were resting directly on the parchment.
Now just let them sit out at room temperature for about four days. At that point, they will have dried out enough where you can strip the stems.
Now you can just let everything dry thoroughly on the parchment. The part that was attached to the stem will still contain some moisture and you will want them to dry completely.
After another 48 hours or so, you will have beautifully dried basil to sustain you through the winter. I ended up drying this batch for about six days in all and the fragrance is amazing!
Note that this process does not have to wait until the end of the season. By all means, dry those blossoming stems throughout the summer for an abundance of dried basil to help you get to enjoy the benefits of your own basil plants all year round.
The basis for creating any dish is understanding how flavors interact with one another. Herbs add amazing flavor to food, whether used fresh or dried. But in addition to herbs, there is an entire spectrum of salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami flavors to also consider. In The Chopping Block’s Flavor Dynamics class you will learn how these flavors work with (or against!) each other, to support your own kitchen adventures! The next Flavor Dynamics class is on Saturday, October 22 at Lincoln Square – I hope you will think about checking it out.