Anden and I have a plot in a community garden through our local co-op and the herbs have exploded. One of the best and most startling things about herbs is their tenacity. When trimmed regularly, basil will overcome adversity and grow to the size of a tiny tree. Last weekend I indiscriminately hacked away at our sage plant and not only did is survive, but it was even bigger when I returned five days later. I trimmed back all of my herbs, some more carefully than others, and I now have several handfuls of everything from lavender to Thai basil.
One of the great challenges for me, is finding a way to use all of the fresh culinary herbs before they shrivel and brown at the hands of the unforgiving, low humidity refrigerator. So when I came home with a small bucketful of herbs from the garden last weekend, I was determined to put them to use.
There are several ways to handle fresh herbs:
- You can dry them out and save them for later
- Store them to use fresh
- Various infusions (I’ve got one of those coming up!).
This whole week, I”m going to focus on fresh herbs. When I say whole week, I mean I have so many recipes to share with you, it’s not all going to fit in one post! You’re going to hear from me again on Tuesday and Thursday this week. I know! I’m pretty excited. But first, here are some of the differences between fresh and dried herbs.
Dried herbs are the dehydrated versions of the fresh-picked and packaged varieties you find at grocery stores. Generally speaking, drying out herbs intensifies their flavor, but that flavor does diminish with age. Leafy herbs especially (think thyme, sage, rosemary, etc.) have a short shelf life after drying, only about 3-4 weeks. Non-leafy herbs like cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg, and coriander seeds last much longer, especially when stored whole and ground just before use.
When cooking with fresh herbs you will have to use a bit more to match the intensity of dried, but their aroma is much stronger, especially leafy herbs like rosemary and tarragon.
Let’s start with how to store fresh herbs for future use. The easiest way to store herbs is to simply seal them in ziplock bags with as much of the air removed as possible.
Throw these in the fridge and use them within a week or two.
And now, the recipes. Remember I mentioned infusions in my earlier list? This is a fun one.
Thyme Infused Vodka
4-6 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 cup of vodka
This is by far the easiest recipe, with one of the most satisfying results. Think bloody marys and vodka martinis. The sweet, floral notes of the thyme really shine when used as the main spirit and add a refined complexity to mixed drinks. Rinse the thyme well, pat it with a towel to soak up the excess water and cover it with the vodka. Unlike oil infusions in which water is the vehicle for microbial growth, alcohol infusions will tolerate a little extra moisture. Set your container in a cool, dark area for a week and you’re in business.
After a week, the vodka will take on a gentle earthy green color and it’s ready to use! I would recommend making a double, or even triple batch of this, because it goes quickly. If you decide you can’t get enough of it, just drop 10-12 sprigs of thyme into a fifth of vodka.
As with any good drink, this is delightful on it’s own or with food. I would recommend it with this bad boy.
Berry Basil and Brie Melt
Crusty bread, such as sourdough, cut thick
1/2 cup of berries (I used black raspberries, but I would also recommend black berries)
4 oz of double cream brie
5-7 leaves of fresh basil
1 small onion
1 tbsp of olive oil
The tartness of the berries interact with the creamy brie and tender sweetness of the onions to make a wholly irresistible summer treat. The secret to caramelized onions is the low and slow treatment. Some people like to add sugar and crank the heat up to speed up the process, and that will work, but if you have the time, slice up the onions, toss them with the oil, and let it simmer on med-low for up to an hour. I know that sounds like a long time, but it’s something you can have going in the background while you check emails or catch up on your favorite Netflix series. They are well worth the wait.
A slow, gentle heating brings out the natural sweetness in onions
Now for the berries
Black raspberries are in season here in Iowa, so I couldn’t resist including them. This recipe is also fantastic with blackberries and I would recommend you play around with other summer fruits (like peaches!) to find your favorite combination. You’ll mash these with the basil leaves. To chop the basil leaves, rinse them and stack them according to relative size before slicing them in half.
Stack the halves on top of each other and slice into ribbons.
Add these to the berries and mash.
To build the sandwich, spread the berry and basil smash on one half of the sandwich, then line the other with slices of brie and top with half of the caramelized onions.
Put these two halves together, drizzle the outside of the sandwich with olive oil (this is really good with the garlic scape oil!) and toast them on med heat for about 2 minutes on each side, or until the brie begins to melt. Best enjoyed with a vodka thyme martini on a bright summer’s day with good friends and long conversations.
There are oh so many goodies I can’t wait to share with you, but I will return Tuesday with more herbalicious recipes!