Basil is easy to grow, but keeping that fresh spicy-sweet flavor intact is not so easy … unless you know a few vital tips and shortcuts.
• Frequent harvesting is key to luscious, flavorful leaves. Start by pinching the stemless and succulent cluster of new leaves at the top of a shoot above the leaf nodes (the joint in the stem where leaves grow) when plants reach 6 to 8 inches tall. At 12 to 18 inches tall, cut the plant back by two-thirds every three to four weeks. This will result in a multi-stemmed, bushy plant full of harvestable leaves.
• When storing basil, forego the refrigerator as the cold can cause leaves to blacken. Instead, keep basil fresh like you would cut flowers—in a glass of water on the kitchen counter. Change the water in your basil bouquet daily and you can keep the fresh flavor going for up to 10 days.
• Blessed with a bounty of basil? Freeze the excess in ice cube trays. Finely chop leaves (or puree in a blender) and mix with water, broth or olive oil. Then fill ice cube trays with the paste and freeze. Once the cubes are frozen, you can pop them out and transfer the basil pops into a zip-top freezer bag for easy storage. Drop a frozen cube or two into simmering soups and stews or to bring a touch of summer flavor to winter stir-fries and sautés.
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Contributing Editor Kris Wetherbee grows herbs in western Oregon.