Sweet Genovese basil
Recipes, Canning, Freezing & More Preserving

Simple Preserves: Making and Freezing Basil Puree

My basil have been going gangbusters in the vintage clawfoot bed. All summer long, the bees have been flitting about the fragrant flowers — dozens of them, to the point where you can hear a collective buzz as you walk by.

Bee feeding on basil flower

Moments like these make me wish I had a beehive, because a colony feeding on all my basil would produce the most amazing honey! (Sigh, one day.)

I haven’t kept up with the pruning, so slowly and surely, the two basil plants in that bed are turning into little trees of sorts, their green stems thickening and hardening into wood.

Woody stem on basil shrub

On one side sits a Lettuce Leaf basil, growing low to the ground and a few feet around; on the other is a Genovese basil, growing so fast and so heavy that it can hardly support the weight of its own branches.

Basil plants in repurposed bathtub planter

Sweet basil plant

I love growing basil in the garden (at least a dozen or more plants every year) since it has so many uses: human food, pollinator food, pest repellent, natural air freshener. Purple or green, spicy or sweet, I always find room for just one more basil when I’m transplanting seedlings in the spring… but come summer, what does one do with a lifetime supply of fresh basil? Even after all the pestos, paninis, and pizza margheritas that I typically throw a handful of leaves into, I’m still left with a basketful of basil and a need to clear some space for fall.

Basil harvest

So, I make basil puree. It’s essentially pesto without the cheese, nuts, and garlic. If, like me, you get sick of seeing a gallon of pesto in your freezer, this quick and easy preserve will find infinite uses in your kitchen when you’re craving some savory summer flavor.

With only a few spoonfuls of oil and a touch of lemon added, basil puree starts as a basic condiment. You can use it to dress up a plethora of plain foods, from frittatas to baked potatoes. Add in the usual players of cheese, nuts, garlic, and more oil for a classic pesto, and you have a sauce that makes pasta sing.

In between those two versions is pistou, a Provençal sauce similar to pesto but lacking in pine nuts (and depending on the person making it, sometimes lacking in cheese). Think of it as a thin dressing with more of the herbal and less of the nutty flavor. Pistou is most often associated with soupe au pistou, a vegetable-heavy soup (much like minestrone) in which the sauce is stirred in just before serving. But pistou can be used in many other recipes to amplify flavor, from grilled fish to roasted meats.

Add a tangy vinegar to your pistou, and you’ve got a lovely vinaigrette to toss with green salads, pasta salads, even quinoa, soba, or rice noodle salads.

All of this (and a lot more I can’t think of off the top of my head) from an assuming batch of basil puree that took you mere minutes to make. So blend up a big batch and stash it in the freezer for the coming months!

Add basil to food processor to make puree

Simple basil puree

Basil Puree

Makes 1/2 cup

Ingredients

3 cups packed basil leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Method

Add all of the ingredients to a food processor and pulse until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary.

Store and freeze the puree based on your needs. You can pour it into a freezer-proof container; pour it into a plastic zip-top bag, seal, and flatten for easier stacking; or portion into an ice cube tray for smaller servings that you can pop out individually. (I’m a fan of these jumbo silicone trays for this very purpose, especially when I scale up the recipe and need to freeze plentiful portions of puree.)

Before using, thaw the puree at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

How to Use Basil Puree

Pesto: Add 1/2 cup basil puree, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, 2 tablespoons chopped toasted nuts, 2 garlic cloves, and a hefty pinch of salt to a food processor. Pulse until well combined. Add olive oil as desired for a thinner consistency. (Makes 3/4 cup)

Pistou: In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup basil puree, 4 minced garlic cloves, and a pinch of salt. (Grated Parmesan is optional.) Add olive oil as desired for a thinner consistency. (Makes 1/2 cup)

Vinaigrette: In a small bowl, stir together 1/4 cup basil puree, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, and 1 teaspoon crushed garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste. (Makes 1/2 cup)

More Meal Ideas for Basil Puree: Thin with olive oil and drizzle on eggs, fish, meats, or vegetables. Mix with mayo and smear on sandwiches, burgers, bagels, or corn on the cob. Combine with softened butter and spread on toast or savory pancakes. Spread on homemade pizza or calzones. Whip into mashed potatoes. Stir into soups. Use as a base or sauce for sautes or stir-fries.

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