A Bumper Crop of Basil

I normally have a hard time growing healthy, lush basil but this year I've had more than my fair share of success. The stuff is literally growing overnight and reaching out to grab me by the leg as I walk by on the patio.  I've already harvested twice and made two batches of basil pesto for the freezer so I really didn't want anymore of that, so that left me wondering what to do with the bounty from my third harvest.  I decided to dry this round so I'd have it to use long after my plants have died down. 

It's best to harvest your herbs during the early or mid-morning hours before the hot sun starts beating down on them.  Wash them and dry them off really, really well (especially if you plan to hang them to dry because you don't want to risk having the leaves mold from the moisture).    If you do plan to hang them to dry, that process is pretty simple but it takes a bit of time.  Just gather your stems in bunches, tie them with kitchen twine and hang them in a cool, dark and dry place to dry.  I really didn't want basil hanging in my closet because I can barely get all of my clothes in there as it is, so I decided to use the oven to dry mine.

Turn your oven on the lowest temperature setting - mine is 200 degrees and that worked just fine.  Line a baking pan with either aluminum foil or parchment paper as the leaves have a tendency to stick to your pan.  The leaves will begin to shrink in size as they dry, so go ahead and put a big pile on your pan but spread them as best you can into a single layer.  I dried about three batches and the leaves took anywhere from 15-20 minutes to dry and even then some of the batch wasn't completely dry.  So as they cooled, I crumbled the leaves and poured it all back onto the parchment paper and let it continue to dry with the residual heat after I turned off the oven. 

Three large batches of fresh leaves yielded about 3/4 cup of dried leaves.  Keep the basil sealed in a freezer bag or jar and use it to season anything from vegetables to sauces to soups.  I even added a few generous pinches to my bread machine pizza dough earlier in the week.  I've included the recipe that I use in my Oster Expressbake breadmaker - I know pizza dough is simple to make with your own two hands, but I'd rather spend five minutes throwing the ingredients in the machine and let it do all the work while I'm busy doing something else, like drying basil.  I'm a huge multi-tasker like that. 

Pizza Dough for Bread Machine
Makes 1.5 lb.

1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups all-purpose flour (sometimes I use half all-purp and half whole wheat)
1-1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 cup water
2 Tbls. olive oil or vegetable oil

If you'd like to add your favorite dried herbs to the bread pan along with the other dry ingredients, feel free to do so.  I used about a tablespoon of dried basil.  Or if you prefer, you could sprinkle it on the pizza sauce before you add your toppings. 

Combine all ingredients into bread pan. 

Select Dough setting and let it do its thing.  Mine takes about 1-1/2 hours.  When it's finished, pat dough out into 12x15 jelly roll pan or greased 12" round pizza pan.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Top dough with pizza sauce and your favorite toppings.

Bake 15-20 minutes or until crust is golden brown. 



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