IN SEASON - July, August, September
It is the leaves of the basil plant that are used in cooking, and these leaves can range from green to reddish to purple in color, depending on the variety. There are more than 60 different varieties of basil, each with its own distinct flavor.
With stalks attached, place in a glass of water and cover with a plastic bag secured to the glass. Store in the refrigerator, changing water daily, and use within a week. Do not wash the leaves until you are ready to use them.
Fresh basil is a perfect candidate for freezing, either whole or chopped. Blanch whole leaves for two seconds, plunge into ice water, pat dry and place in airtight bags in the freezer. The flavor will be stronger if you do not thaw before using.
Another option is to put whole or chopped fresh leaves in an ice cube tray and cover with water or broth before freezing. Once frozen, pop the cubes out into an airtight bag. Use the cubes in soups, stews or sauces.
Basil and oil paste may also be frozen. Frozen basil should be used within 4 months.
Fresh basil may also be dry-preserved. Gently wash the leaves, blot with paper towels, and let them dry completely. Layer coarse salt and basil leaves, ending with a layer of salt, in an airtight container. Store in a cool, dark place up to 6 months.
Basil is the ultimate compliment to tomatoes and also pairs beautifully with onions, garlic, and olives. For the most intense flavor, basil should be added at the end of the cooking process.