When I visited Tuscany a few months ago, I learned how to keep fresh basil around all year long even when freshly-picked herbs are not available from the garden.
During the Plated Stories Workshop, we participated in a cooking session with Enrico Cassini. Enrico was the owner and the renowned chef of Le Cassace, the Villa where the workshop was held.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Enrico was very proud of his lands and his olive oil. He made his fresh basil with olive oil from his olive groves and he used it to enhance his food creations.
I made my version with fresh basil from my garden and Il Palazzone Extra Virgin Olive Oil which I brought back from Tuscany. This olive oil is special because it comes from a vineyard in Montalcino, Italy, in the Brunello wine region of Tuscany.
We visited the winery and toured the vineyards where they grow Sangievese grapes for the Brunello wine.
In addition to the vineyards and the winery, they also have a small olive grove of 1000 trees. They have three kinds of olive trees: Toscano, Monenello, and Songenese.
According to Laura, the Estate Manager and our host for the guided tour, 3,000 is the optimal amount of olive trees that you should maintain in order to have a good yield. However, they want to remain true to the craft so they nurture these trees to produce the liquid gold.
To ensure high quality oil, the olives are picked by hand before they fall off the tree (to keep them from getting bruised) and before they are fully mature. The oil is packaged in dark green bottles to protect it from light and to help preserve its fragrance and beautiful color. This arduous process brings in a smaller yield and as a result, production is limited.
In order to make the best possible Extra Virgin Olive Oil in the most traditional way, they established a program, called Club 100. The idea behind this program is to let other people share in the cost of maintaining the olive trees and producing the olive oil. This adopt-an-olive-tree program reminds me of a CSA. They’ll even put a plaque on the tree with your name on it. How cool is that!
As you can imagine, adopting a tree is very popular so there is a waiting list. I’m on the list and I’m looking forward to adopting an olive tree soon. Then I’ll be able to say that I used olive oil made from my adopted tree.
Making Fresh Basil with Olive Oil
I’ve been waiting for my basil plants to grow all summer so I could try this trick. My three plants finally produced enough leaves for me to make it and have some left over for drying. This is a photo of one of the plants after I harvested most of it’s leaves.
To make it, just take freshly-picked basil leaves, add them to the blender with a little bit of olive oil and process until the mixture is the consistency you desire. Then place the fresh basil in a jar and top it off with more olive oil.
How much basil should you use?
My basil plants weren’t very big this year so to make this fresh basil mix, I harvested all the leaves from two plants. Then I discarded the bruised and discolored leaves. I didn’t weigh the basil, but the photo below shows what the mound of fresh basil leaves looked like on the cutting board before I placed it in the blender. I didn’t chop the leaves; I added the leaves whole to the blender and drizzled in olive oil a little at a time until it was completed blended.
Enrico used the immersion blender and blended his mixture about 3 times. My immersion blender wasn’t strong enough so I used the regular blender and blended the leaves until they were fairly smooth.
What type of jar should you use?
Once the mixture was ready, I spooned it into an appropriately-sized jar. I tried an eight ounce canning jar (jelly jar), but it was too small. The pint size jar was too large. I finally found a jar that would hold it. I just happened to have a jar that originally had basil pesto in it, but you can use any jar that has a tight-fitting lid. After you place the mixture in the jar, you’ll want to top it off with olive oil to within about a half-inch of the top of the jar.
Voila! There you have it! Simple, and convenient.
How do you store it?
Store the jar at room temperature. When you are ready to use the fresh basil, just stir it and scoop out what you need.
You can use it in homemade pasta sauces, soups, or any dish where you would use basil and olive oil. You could also make basil pesto with this if you choose to do so.
Happy Canning & Baking!