I realized that around this time of year, I pay a lot of attention to the weather reports. Not because I want to make sure the kids dress appropriately for the weather, but because I want to bring in all the herbs from the garden before the nights get too chilly. After all, my kids are old enough now to grab their own jackets, but the herbs have no one but me to get them through the winter.
NOTE: Although I used the herbs from the last of our garden, obviously you don’t need to be using home grown for any of these products. Your grocery’s cilantro looks fantastic this week? Pick up extra and make some paste. Only needed a tablespoon of mint and you have a whole bunch left over? Make some mint sugar (oh – the iced tea!).
For the past few years, I’ve made herb pastes from basil and parsley. Herb pastes are a great way to preserve leafy herbs. They freeze well and, if topped with oil, keep quite a while in the fridge. This year we have a crazy crop of parsley, so I’ll be making a ton of parsley paste. We also had a bit of genovese basil, and a ton of purple basil. The genovese basil is the kind you’re used to seeing in tomato mozzarella salads. It’s leafy and sweet, and usually used for pesto sauces (ground basil with garlic, cheese and pine nuts), and that’s just what I did with it. Purple basil is a bit different. It’s tougher stuff, both plant-wise and taste-wise. Plant-wise, it stood up better to our crazy weather this summer. With respect to taste, it’s not nearly as sweet as its leafier, greener cousin. It has a much sharper taste, almost bitter. I decided to just process it with olive oil – it gives me a lot more options for later use.
Leafy Herb Paste
- Several cups fresh herb leaves, washed and well dried
- 1/4 to 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Optional add ins (such as chopped garlic, sliced almonds or other chopped nuts, toasted pine nuts, salt and/or grated cheese).
- If using hard add ins such as nuts or garlic, throw them in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse them a couple of times to break them up a bit.
- Add the herbs.
- Begin processing the herbs (and salt if you’re using) and, with the motor running, add olive oil, a tablepoon at a time until you reach a consistency you like. I like mine thick, with just enough oil to make a smooth paste.
STORAGE TIPS: I store herb paste in two different ways. Some I put some in glass jars, topped with olive oil and refrigerated them. They’ve been gracing sandwiches and stews for the past couple of weeks. After using it, make sure the top is still covered in oil – if necessary add some. For longer storage, I spread the paste in thin layers inside resealable plastic bags and froze them. Why inside the bags instead of in ice cubes? I’ve found this method gives me more flexibility – I can just break off however much I need.
I had a few herbs that didn’t really seem suited to the paste/pesto treatment. Lemon verbena was one of them. I love the citrusy smell of this herb! I knew I was going to want to use it for baking over the winter (can anyone else smell the shortbread cookies?), so an oil paste wasn’t going to work for me. I could have dried it, but I was worried I would lose flavor, and I don’t love the texture of leafy dried herbs in cookies. An online friend pointed me towards the solution – grind it up with sugar. Which is exactly what I did.
Lemon Verbena Sugar
- 2 cups fresh lemon verbena leaves (or other herbs), washed and well dried.
- 1 – 1 1/4 cup white sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it)
- Put the leaves and 1 cup of the sugar in a food processor fit with a steel blade.
- Pulse to grind the leaves. If the consistency seems a little wet, add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Process until the leaves are finely ground.
- Put the herb sugar in resealable plastic bags. Remove the air from the bag and seal up the bags, spreading the sugar inside them into a flat layer.
- Freeze the bags.