An assortment of herbs, plus carrot tops, for making pesto and freezing
Photo by Heather Cross
It still feels like summer, but the days are shorter and a change in the weather is imminent. Basil is abundant at the market right now, but cold weather will be here before we know it. Stock up on basil and other fresh herbs now and have plenty of pesto or plain herbs for seasoning, for months to come.
I’m sure you have plenty of dried herbs and spices in your cabinets - I know I do. Some herbs are just better fresh, though, or are at least different enough to warrant having both around. Chattanooga is a mild enough climate that evergreen herbs such as rosemary and thyme are green year-round. Cilantro prefers cooler weather. Basil loves the heat, though, and many other herbs will not be found in our coldest days, and none if we get any snow or ice!
Freezing is a great way to preserve fresh herbs. They won’t have the same texture as fresh but they will still provide the flavor and color that you cannot get without them. There are several ways to go about freezing herbs. First think about what herbs you like to use often and what you miss having handy in winter. Do you miss pesto or just a little green to give color to a cream soup? Do you have a favorite herb that you’d like to have on hand all the time? Or, perhaps you just have some fresh herbs that you want to use up before they go bad.
The easiest and quickest way to freeze fresh herbs is as-is. Make sure they’re clean and dry, organize them into amounts you’d like to use, pop in a ziploc bag, and freeze. Note that they will not look the same thawed as they did fresh but will still be good for seasoning cooked dishes or made into purees. You can also chop them before freezing, making them even more appropriate as a garnish.
Going a step further, herb ice cubes make consistently proportioned frozen herbs. Pack an ice cube tray full of herbs, cover with water, and freeze. Pop out of the molds and store in labeled bags. Or, go a step further and puree the herbs with water or another liquid. For instance, cilantro pureed with lime could be appropriate for a mexican-style dish. Just be sure to label it well, in case you don’t always want lime with your cilantro!
Next up is preserving in butter or oil. We haven’t gotten to pesto yet; this is just plain herbs in your choice of oils. First decide how you want to use your finished herbs: as a spread or dip for bread, a topping for cooked meat or fish, or other garnish for a finished dish? You can pick any herb you enjoy for such a use. If, however, you want to begin a recipe, such as a soup, with the herbs in oil, choose sturdy, woody herbs such as thyme or rosemary for that purpose. The flavors of soft herbs won’t hold up to long cooking. Even though they’re cold tolerant, you might want to have some cubes of the hardier herbs in oil just for convenience sake. It will be one less step in preparing your meal to have herbs at the ready. For either purpose use small herb leaves whole, or tear, chop, or puree larger herbs, again to your preference. Blend with softened butter and freeze in ice cube trays, dollops on a lined cookie sheet (then transferred to bags or containers once frozen), or, after chilling, rolled into a log like cookie dough. For olive oil, prepare your herbs, then add to ice cube trays and cover with oil. Or, puree the herbs with oil and pour into trays. Remove the desired amount from the freezer when you start cooking and they will be sufficiently thawed to add to a hot meal when it’s done. Or, cubes can be added to hot soup to help bring it down to serving temperature.
Finally, preserving pesto is not very different from preserving herbs in other ways. Although you can make pesto year round with ingredients other than basil, it’s easy enough to set aside a winter’s worth of basil pesto in your freezer. Make your favorite pesto recipe and then choose the storage method that suits you best. Jars work if you go through a large amount within a week or so; just remember to take it out of the freezer long enough ahead of time for it to thaw! Cubes or frozen dollops (you can measure them if you’d like to be precise) probably work well for most people. They thaw quickly and you can choose your amounts to freeze and use. Another method is to spread out your pesto thinly on a lined cookie sheet, freeze, and then break into chunks like candy bark. The pesto freezes solid but breaks apart easily into your preferred serving size. You can add just a taste to a serving of soup or use more for a family’s worth of pasta.
I like to use silicone ice cube trays for my herbs and pesto. The frozen herbs pop out of the flexible molds better than stiff trays. The shapes are cute, too, but also the flowers I chose have petals that are easy to break off for small amounts.
Experiment and have fun!
Clockwise from top: cilantro-lime, pesto, chives, and cilantro
Photo by Zachary Cross
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