Fresh herbs add special magic to our cooking, and as fall approaches, we've done everything possible to prolong their bounty. Frosty nights send us scurrying to cover our Basil with garden fabric. We dig up Chives, Thyme and even Mint, cramming them into pots with fresh soil that can be brought indoors.
Potted Rosemary and Sageare squeezed onto kitchen windowsills. We hold on to them as long as we can, as if their very existence could keep summer alive.
But after many years, we've found that bringing herbs indoors can be more trouble than it's worth. Garden soil and plants almost always contain insects that can quickly infest houseplants. Providing adequate light is difficult. Instead, we focus on harvesting herbs before they succumb to chilly weather and preserving them in ways that make adding them to winter meals a snap.
Bringing Harvested Herbs Inside
After we have protected our outdoor herbs from early, intermittent night frosts, and ever more frosty night temperatures become the norm, we focus on bringing harvested herbs indoors~not the plants themselves. Although it is a little sad to tidy up and bid farewell to our herb garden at season's end, it really is a rewarding nesting process from which we benefit all winter long.
Once indoors, we lovingly remove Basil leaves from their stems and wash and spin them dry before nestling them into our food processor with toasted pine nuts, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, fat cloves of garlic and golden olive oil for the best pesto ever. We freeze it flat in airtight bags and then line them up like culinary soldiers in the freezer door. It is so nice to snap off pieces for quick pasta sauces, or to spread a thin layer over soft goat cheese in a little baking dish for an impromptu warm hors d'oeuvre with pita chips on a cold winter night. A little piece is also nice melted into a pot of homemade chicken and pasta soup.
Herbed Butters are Useful All Winter
We make all different sorts of Herbed Butter Balls and freeze them on cookie sheets, after which we pop them into airtight bags for easy freezer access. We dip into our frozen buttery herb treasure trove almost every night as we prepare dinner. You can make up your own favorite combinations: Parsley, Sage and Thyme; Parsley, Garlic and Shallots; or Basil, grated ginger root, lemon zest and Garlic. It's nice to rub herbed butter under the skin of a plump chicken before roasting, or to melt savory butter atop freshly steamed vegetables. It's deliciously handy to deglaze skillets with butters and a swish of wine or chicken broth after pan-searing scallops, chicken breasts or pork chops. Don't forget to make some butter with finely minced Dill~great for steamed Carrots.
We chop Chives, Parsley, Dill and Cilantro, infuse them with just a little olive oil and freeze them in ice cube trays, eventually storing them in yet more freezer bags. They normally retain their verdant greenness for four to six months.
Even More Herbal Ideas
We finely dice Chives, wash them and dry them on paper towels before freezing them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, we scoop them into yet another airtight freezer bag. There is nothing more lovely on a cold winter afternoon than a steaming bowl of Cream of Potato-Leek Soup sprinkled with your own minced Chives.
Parsley is good in almost everything. Cilantroperks up winter salsas and is essential in Asian dishes, like Thai Peanut Noodle Salad. Our freezer turns into a secret cache of magical envelopes that makes each night's dinner a quick, and most delicious, fix. Mint leaves, slowly steeped in homemade simple syrup, is a favorite addition to hot tea and adult beverages. A handful of crushed dry Mint is a delightful addition to hearty mixed grains. Herbal oils and vinegars make it easy to capture the complex flavors of Basil, Rosemary or Tarragon. Simply tuck a few sprigs of herbs into little bottles of good vinegar or extra virgin olive oil and let them sit for a month or so. They make wonderful gifts.
The Mediterranean herbs like Sage, Thyme, Marjoram, Summer Savory, Oregano and Rosemary air-dry
rather quickly. Make small bundles of them and fasten them with raffia or rubber bands. They look so pretty piled into a wicker basket or tied into a little herb wreath. Be sure to lay in a good supply of Sage for Thanksgiving dinner, and Thyme for winter soups, stews and chowders. Marjoram is delicious with Carrots or shrimp, and Summer Savory is good with mussels or pork. Every pizza is better with some crushed Oregano on top, but Oregano is also wonderful with chicken. Home-dried Rosemary is divine with roasted Potatoes, baked chicken, grilled meats and savory shortbread cookies.