Basil to last

This has not been a good year for crops in the Cucurbitaceae family. The squash vine borer wiped out all my zucchini and summer squash plants so for the first time since I started my garden in 2004, I did not have a single zucchini or summer squash. The cucumbers yielded barely enough to make a salad a couple of times, and now the Red Kuri squash plants are one by one succumbing to the squash vine borer as well.

The basil next to them, however, is making up for those failures. I have been harvesting armfuls of it. Sure, I always plant a lot of basil, mostly Genovese and also some purple basil, but this year it has been especially lush. After drying it, freezing lots of pesto and giving big bouquets to friends, I still had some left over.

I tried to find a way to use lots of basil and make it last in an easy and compact way. The Fragrant Tuscan Herb Salt from The Splendid Table I made a few summers ago was good at first, however after a while, the garlic made it too pungent. I took some with me to Germany and gave a small jar to my cousin. She opened it right there in the café and the garlic smell made the folks at the next table turn their heads.

So I skipped the garlic and came up with a recipe that uses basil only. After a few small trial batches I found the right formula, using basil leaves that have been only wilted overnight but are not dry yet. They give the salt a beautiful purple or green color. Letting the salt sit in full sun for a day dries it enough so it can be stored long-term in jars.I have started using the salt to season my homemade Thick Tomato Sauce and other dishes. And one large jar is going out the door today as a birthday gift for a friend. I filled the bottom half with green salt and the top half filled with purple basil salt, which is very pretty. As an added precaution against any residual moisture I placed a tiny cheesecloth pouch filled with rice on top.

Of course moderating one’s salt intake is always a concern. Just because I have jars with those beautiful fragrant salts sitting in my spice cabinet how does not mean that I am suddenly going overboard with salt. I have always been a careful salter.

And I was happy to read in the latest issue of Consumer Reports on Health, which is a must-read in our house, that “a mere 5 percent of Americans’ sodium intake comes from salt added at the table, and only 6 percent comes from salt added during cooking. By contrast, 71 percent comes from the packaged and restaurant foods we eat.”

That’s good news for all of us from-scratch cooks and gardeners who spend a good part of their summer processing their harvest.

Basil Salt

Wait for a couple of warm, sunny days to do this.

1 generous handful green or purple basis leaves

1 cup (290 g) kosher (coarse) salt

  1. Wash the basil leaves and dry them thoroughly in a salad spinner. Spread them on a tray lined with a tea towel and let them wilt overnight in a warm, dry, dust-free place indoors.
  2. The next morning, place the basil leaves in the food processor. And ¼ cup salt and pulse until the basil leaves are finely chopped and have thoroughly blended with the salt to a sandy consistency. Add the remaining salt and pulse until just combined.
  3. Spread the salt on a large plate or serving platter no thicker than ½ inch (1.25 cm). Cover with a large piece of cheesecloth and secure it on all sides to prevent insects from getting underneath. Place it in full sun for the rest of the day. Make sure to bring it inside before the air becomes humid at dusk. The salt should be fully dried but just to make sure, leave it on the plate until the next day. If it forms a solid sheet, break it up und crumble with your fingers before filling it into jars with tight-fitting lids. Store in a dry place.

Makes 1 jar

Photos by Ted Rosen




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