Keep garden-fresh herbs handy all fall and winter, and leave the store-bought dried herbs on the shelf.
Farmers’ markets and gardens are bursting with tasty fresh herbs this time of the year, so it is a perfect time not only to enjoy them fresh but also to try preserving them for use later—especially the frost-tender ones, such as basil and pineapple sage, which will be gone with the first nip of frost. Preserving fresh organic herbs is a great way to add flavor to your food, plus by not purchasing pesticide-grown plants you support a healthy environment at the same time! And you’ll save money by not having to buy tiny bottles of the dried stuff that loses its flavor before you have time to use it up.
Drying herbs couldn’t be simpler and is a great way to preserve parsley, rosemary, mint, thyme, and many others. But some herbs will be mere shadows of their former selves when dried, hardly worth the time and effort it takes to do it. Luckily, there are lots of simple alternatives, such as freezing and making herbal butters and vinegars, and pretty much all herbs are suited to these methods.
Freezing herbs is easy, even if you have a small freezer. The simplest way to freeze herbs is to spread dry, clean whole or chopped leaves onto a baking sheet, freeze overnight, and put the frozen herbs into sealed containers in the freezer for later use. Frozen herbs prepared this way last for months before they start to get tired-looking. I like to freeze chives for sprinkling on baked potatoes in the dead of winter, when my herb patch is locked under snow.
For longer storage, freeze herbs by snipping leaves into small bits, packing the bits into an empty ice-cube tray, filling about ¾ full with water, and freezing; one measured tablespoon of herbs per cube is a good amount. The next day, top off with water and freeze again (this covers the floating bits with ice to prevent freezer burn). Pop the finished cubes into a sealed container in the freezer. Drop frozen cubes into soups, stews, and such, for fresh-cut flavor.
Pesto also freezes well—freeze it in an ice-cube tray and store the cubes in airtight containers in the freezer. First, discover the secret of making gorgeous, emerald-green pesto.