This summer I decided to get up-close-and-personal with fresh herbs. I grew several varieties on my back deck and bought more basil at the farmers’ market because my own basil didn’t thrive this year. I have been drying fresh herbs too. Saturday, I pushed the boundaries even further by experimenting with how to freeze fresh chives and basil.
Maybe it’s not a major adventure compared to some that others undertake. After all, while I was herbing away, Diana Nyad swam 82 nautical miles and Andrew Kibble attempted to climb the 3 highest mountains in England, Scotland, and Wales in 24 hours. But where I come from, being brave can be a state of mind in the kitchen as well as a requirement for athletic achievement.
Why use fresh herbs?
- they are delectable;
- their smell is intoxicating; and
- fresh herbs add a layer of taste to potatoes, roasted vegetables, and tomato salad that you just won’t believe.
Their flavor is more delicate than dried herbs and it takes more to season a dish than the dried amount typically called for in recipes. They often work best when added at the last minute and some dishes, especially salads, work great with fresh herbs but not so well with dried.
I mean no disrespect to dried herbs. Especially in winter when fresh are harder to find in the store or have to be grown inside, I’m grateful for them. But dried herbs don’t last long. Whole dried herbs retain their flavor for only 1-3 years and crushed herbs (most of what grocery stores sell) last only about 6 months. So if you’re like me and have a bunch of old herbs sitting around, crush a bit in your hand before you add it to a dish. If it doesn’t have a nice aroma, throw it out; adding old dried herbs to a dish won’t improve its flavor.
Back to my herb adventures. I set basil, thyme and chives up on a string to dry under a counter in my kitchen 2 weeks ago. The basil and thyme have dried reasonably well. They still have their lovely smell, even if they lost most of their vibrant color. I’ve put them in plastic bags and will use them in the winter. We’ll see if they work as commercially dried herbs do – stronger than an equal amount of fresh herbs.
The chives didn’t fare as well. They turned brown and don’t have much smell. So back to the drawing board – or rather back to my internet search for drying herbs. I learned from a gardening website is that the best way to preserve chives is to freeze them, so I did. So far they look great and smell right, so I’ll keep them. Most will get used cut up and added to sour cream as a topping for baked potatoes and Mexican food this fall.
Speaking of freezing, I bought a huge bunch of fresh basil for $2 at the farmer’s market this week. I’m about basil’d out for right now, and decided to keep most of the leaves for winter by freezing freezing them, chopped, with olive oil. I used about 2 tablespoons of oil for each huge handful of basil.
Some I just roughly chopped in a food processor – a few quick pulses, while the rest I finely ground by letting the processor go for 20 seconds or so. If you don’t have a food processor, you could do the rough chop with a knife and cutting board, though it might be tedious.
I put the mixture into an ice cube tray, then after it froze, I emptied the frozen cubes into a plastic bag. Now, all I have to do with a cube is add some ground nuts (walnuts or pine nuts), parmesan cheese, a bit of salt and butter, and I’ve got pesto any time I want it!