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.
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.
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On one side sits a Lettuce Leaf basil, growing low to the ground and a few feet around. (Each leaf is almost the size of my hand!)
On the other side is a Genovese basil, growing so fast and so heavy that it can hardly support the weight of its own branches.
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, and natural air freshener.
Try this recipe: Thai Basil Ice Cream
Purple or green, spicy or sweet, I always find room for just one more basil plant when I’m transplanting seedlings in the spring… but come summer, what does one do with a lifetime supply of fresh basil?
Make this: Baked Blueberry-Basil Donuts
Even after all the pesto, 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.
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 frozen pesto in your freezer by season’s end, this quick and easy preserve will find infinite uses in your kitchen when you’re craving some savory summer flavor in the middle of winter (or any time of year).
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 unassuming 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! Best of all, you don’t have to blanch basil before freezing it.
Makes 1/2 cup
3 cups packed basil leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
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 basil puree based on your needs:
- Pour it into a freeze-proof container.
- Pour it into a small freezer bag, seal, and flatten for easier stacking.
- Portion into an ice cube tray for smaller servings that you can pop out individually.
(I’m a fan of these 1/2-cup freezer trays for this very purpose, especially when I scale up the recipe and need to freeze plentiful portions of puree.)
Before using, thaw the frozen basil puree at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
How to use basil puree
For 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)
For 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)
For 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 ways to use basil puree:
- Thin with olive oil and drizzle on eggs, fish, meats, or vegetables.
- Mix with mayo and smear on sandwiches, burgers, bagels, wraps, or corn on the cob.
- Combine with softened butter and spread on toast, English muffins, savory pancakes, or baked potatoes.
- Spread on homemade pizza or calzones.
- Thin with olive oil and use as a dip for breadsticks or crudites.
- Whip into mashed potatoes, mashed cauliflower, or turnip puree.
- Stir into cauliflower rice or zucchini noodles.
- Stir into soups and stews.
- Use as a base or sauce for sautes, stir-fries, rice bowls, quinoa bowls, and noodle bowls.
Try these other methods of preserving herbs
This post updated from an article that originally appeared on November 3, 2015.