Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Summer Herbs in the Middle of Winter

Here in Los Angeles, it's still hot, and herbs are going gangbusters in our gardens. Yesterday my friend CC gave me a huge bunch of Columnar Basil:

It smells and cooks up just like the more common varieties, but it grows on long, upright stalks:

But what am I going to do with so much basil at one time?

You can do a neat trick to preserve the freshness of almost any herb, to use in the winter months. First, take two well-packed cups of washed and dried, fresh-picked herbs...

And a cup of good olive oil...

Dump them into a food processor...

And buzz them up until you get a sort of loose slurry. It will be more liquid than a pesto sauce:

Pour the herb-oil mixture into a zip-style plastic bag...

...and lay the bag flat in your freezer until it's frozen through:

Once it's solid, you can store the bag upright, kind of like a skinny paperback book, to save space:

Then, whenever you want to add a dash of fresh herbs to your cooking, open up the bag and break off as little or as much as you want. It's easy to break because you froze the herbs in a thin sheet, not in a solid block:

Toss the frozen pieces into a pasta sauce, hot soup, or a pot of hot vegetables to add a fresh, herbal zing to your cooking. You can also use this slurry to make pesto sauce any time of the year: Just thaw the whole, unopened bag in the fridge, then pour the contents back into your food processor. Add minced garlic, shredded Parmeggiano-Reggiano cheese, pine nuts, and a little salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Buzz it up, and presto! Summer in the middle of winter.

This technique of preserving fresh basil with olive oil works with other herbs, too. Try it with marjoram, thyme, oregano--whatever you can dream up. Just be sure to write what's inside each bag with a marker, so you can tell your basil from your tarragon.


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