Storing and (Hopefully) Growing Basil

Two weeks ago when I went to the farmer’s market, I brought home a pile of basil and spent a week sprinkling chiffonade confetti over all of our food. I kept my stash in the fridge, using Alton Brown’s suggestion to jelly-roll the herbs in a few sheets of barely damp paper towel with a sheet of plastic wrap around the bundle to retain most of the moisture while allowing some “breathing” room, and I was very pleased to see my basil stay nice and fresh for nearly a week and a half.

At that point it started wilting and I worried about loss of quality, so I decided to chop the remainder, mixing some with a bit of olive oil to freeze for future recipes, and the rest with a stick of softened butter, salt, and some granulated garlic for a fragrant compound butter also destined for the freezer. Before rolling up a log of compound butter in waxed paper and foil, I reserved a few tablespoons to mix with lime juice and ancho powder, and slather on fresh ears of corn (I then wrapped the corn in foil and roasted it at 375F for 20 minutes). And yes, I could have made pesto, but we’re still eating up the garlic scape and arugula pesto I made last month, so we’re taking a breather.

I also decided, as an experiment, to plunk one sprig of basil into a small cup of water on the windowsill in the hopes that it would sprout roots. To do this, I took a 4″ cutting just underneath a leaf node, being sure to use a very sharp knife to slice through cleanly. Sure enough, a week later, there were little threads descending from the cut end, and in just a few more days, my little basil plant already had a 2″ root system ready for planting in soil.

This is the point where I always seem to have trouble. I’ve never been able to get basil to thrive. Before we had a dog, I planted basil with the rest of my little herb garden, and it always either wilted or turned black and withered up; I think the conditions must not have been right in that part of the yard. I was once able to get a potted basil plant to grow to maybe 8″, but it was never large or full enough to harvest leaves more than one or two at a time. Since then, I’ve tried twice with hanging pots in my very sunny family room with no success, so I’m not optimistic about this little guy’s chances, but who knows?

My cutting potted, with a shot of its predecessor… vaya con Dios, little basil plant!

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