|Homemade butter, ready to add a few herbs!|
Save that flavor! There are more ways to preserve herbs for the winter than just drying or freezing - making herbal oils, vinegars, butter, and pastes (pesto).
- Herbal Oils: Not to be confused with “essential” oils. These are actually herb infused oils, used mainly for cooking. Gently heat olive oil, peanut oil, or other vegetable oil until it’s warm and fragrant. This will take three to five minutes, depending on how much oil you’re heating. Then pour the oil into a glass jar to which you have added fresh herb sprigs, herb leaves, garlic, or chilies. Use about three 2-inch sprigs, one clove of garlic, or one chili for each cup of oil. Let oil cool, cover, and store in the refrigerator for a week to let flavors develop. Use the oil to sauté and in marinades and salad dressings. Store oil in refrigerator and use within one more week.
- Herbal Vinegar: Choose white vinegar, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or rice vinegar, depending on the herbs you’re adding. Be sure to choose a vinegar that will not overpower the flavor of the herb you’re adding. Heat the vinegar but don’t boil it; then pour it into a glass jar to which you have added fresh herb sprigs or leaves. Use about three 2-inch sprigs for each cup of vinegar. Garlic, shallots, or chilies can be used, too, by adding one for each cup of vinegar. Let the vinegar cool, then cover it with a plastic jar lid, since metal will react with the vinegar fumes and corrode. If all you have is a metal lid, place clear plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar before screwing on the lid. Store in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Use the vinegar in salad dressings and marinades and to deglaze pans.
- Herb Butter: Combine about 1 tablespoon of minced fresh herbs with ½ cup softened sweet butter. Wrap the mixture in plastic and store it in the refrigerator for up to a month or in the freezer for about three months. Use the butter on warm biscuits or toast, steamed vegetables, poached chicken, or fish. Or use it to sauté .
- Herb Paste, or Pesto: Check out my Basil post for a good, basic pesto recipe. And then… broaden your scope with it by using other herbs, different nuts, omitting the cheese and or garlic, using different hard cheese, etc! Pesto keeps very well in the freezer.
You can also omit the nuts, cheese, and garlic entirely to make an herb/oil concentrate: Use 2 hard-packed cups of herb leaves to ½ cup good-quality canola or safflower oil. Blend in a food processor until you have a coarse paste. Will keep 1 to 2 weeks in the refrigerator or 1 to 2 years in the freezer. You can use the icecube-tray trick to freeze herb pastes: Simply fill a tray with the paste, freeze it, then pop the cubes out into a freezer bag for storage. (I'd suggest double-bagging or placing the bag in a sealed container for longest-lasting flavor.)
However you decide to preserve your herbs, be sure you give yourself a healthy pat on the back come January. You’ll be enjoying the fruits of your garden and the work of your own hands, adding in a small (but very tasteful!) way to the quality of your life. So, save that flavor and enjoy your herbs!