The summer heat has been especially brutal this year, but somehow my herb garden has managed to persevere. So much so, that the abundance has resulted in little bouquet deliveries to my neighbors from time to time including a little Mother’s Day gift this past May when my nasturtiums, tarragon and chives were still blooming.
In the colder months to come, when portions of the herb garden may go dormant, those dried herbs in the pantry are more frequently used. How old are the dry herbs in your pantry? Do you even remember when you bought them? Now is a great time to empty those jars and refill them with freshly dried herbs.
To start I cut bunches of each herb (in the garden) and give each bundle a good trim, discard dead or discolored stems and wash well setting the bundle on a tray lined with paper towel to slightly dry.
For the drying process I used the microwave oven, and two paper plates, with one method for thyme, oregano and tarragon and a different method for rosemary and sage. I didn’t dry basil or mint, as those are always best fresh, but I did share a use for using up the large crop of sweet basil below to add elevated flavor to your recipes.
For thyme, oregano and tarragon, I simply laid the washed stems in a small bunch in the middle of the paper plate and then covered it with another paper plate. Place covered plate into the microwave and process for three 30 second intervals. This allows the herb leaves to slowly dry and maintain a green color without burning. Test your microwave (as they are all different) by checking the level of dryness after two 30 second processes. If your leaves are still slightly “fresh” or wet, process a third time and check again. Some may have to process it for less time and others may have to process it a little longer.
Once dried, using your fingertips, gently roll the leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Store the dried herbs into glass jars to prevent crushing.
For rosemary, pinch the stem with two fingers at the top and slide down to remove all of the rosemary leaves. Place the leaves between the two paper plates and process for two 30 second intervals. I found that this was dry enough for my liking and know that they will continue to dry over time in the pantry.
For sage, pull the leaves from their stems, stack three or four leaves and then roll tightly like a cigar. Thinly slice into strips (called chiffonade) and depending on the size of the leaves it may require slicing the strips in half.
Placing the chiffonade sage leaves between the two paper plates, process in 30 second intervals in the microwave watching for the level of dryness you prefer.
For many years, my Thanksgiving centerpiece has been a sage butter roasted turkey, with a sage apple cider gravy that requires both dried and fresh sage. Dried sage pressed together into coarse salt is rubbed all over the turkey skin and then placed in the refrigerator overnight. When baking the following day, it is based with melted butter and fresh chopped sage. Both the aroma and flavors are absolutely amazing! My freshy dried sage will be stored and ready for the big day.
A practiced cook knows that recipes that go into the oven often call for dried herbs rather than fresh because they tend to better handle the heat and long periods of baking, but less amounts are used because the flavor of the herb intensifies when dried. The Fall and Winter seasons are usually enjoyed by savoring rich stews, roasted vegetables and meats that are often cooked in the oven. Having a pantry stocked with freshly grown and dried herbs is not only a tasty plan, but a thrifty plan since buying dried herbs can be very expensive.
If your garden is plentiful, the holidays are just around the corner. Why not consider gifting freshly dried herbs to friends and family as Christmas gifts? Purchase inexpensive jars or use small dollar store zip labeled pouches filled with freshly dried herbs and then nested in a small basket as a hostess or holiday gift is something the recipient can use and enjoy all year. If gifting sealed pouches of herbs, just as you have refreshed your spice jars, your friends and family can toss out the old dried herbs in their pantry and refill their jars with your gifted herbs. A jar of confit garlic and local fresh baked bread (if you don’t bake yourself) and or a jar of pesto (made with your basil) and encourage the least interested cook into creating something easy and flavorful.
Let’s not forget about the basil. I have both sweet basil and thai basil growing in my garden. Both have grown to nearly three feet tall and this is what they look like after a good trim. While dried basil is not something I personally use, a large amount of fresh basil can be used to make fresh pesto. Using a recipe from Pinterest, basil, garlic, lemon juice, toasted pine nuts, grated parmesan cheese and extra virgin olive oil whirled in a small food processor creates a bright and fresh pesto that is flavorful and delicious spread over grilled chicken or tossed in fresh pasta. It also can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks and can be spread on wraps or used to make a vinaigrette to toss on a fresh spinach salad. https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/pesto-pea-salad-recipe-2040302
For my last little project, I made confit garlic and garlic roasted olive oil. Recipes can be found on Pinterest, but for mine I did the following.
For confit: I used a mini ceramic bread loaf pan, and filled with two large garlic bulbs -cloves separated and peeled and then poured extra virgin olive oil close to the top of the pan. Also place on a small baking sheet to protect from spilling. Place in the oven at 250 degrees for two hours. Let cool and store in tightly sealed jar in refrigerator for a couple of weeks. Cover the garlic with the oil and if there is excess add to the roasted garlic oil bottle below.
For roasted garlic oil: I used the same mini ceramic bread loaf pan and sliced the top edge off of two garlic bulbs and placed the entire bulbs in the loaf pan. Fill with extra virgin olive oil, place on a baking sheet and bake at 250 degrees for two hours. Let cool to room temperature. I then squeezed the garlic from the bulbs into the confit jar. Use a coffee filter or cheesecloth folded into four layers and place inside a funnel and filter oil into a measuring cup. Using the same funnel and filter pour the filtered oil from the measuring cup through the cheesecloth again, into your final glass bottle.
Note: You can purchase peeled garlic cloves or break a bulb of garlic apart and place the individual cloves with peel into a tightly closed jar and shake vigorously until all of the peel comes off of the garlic.
How to use your garlic confit and roasted garlic olive oil.
Roasted or confit garlic is sweet and very flavorful. You can spread the soft cloves on breads to make homemade garlic bread, create a vinaigrette, add to soups, pasta or roasted chicken. Be creative and experiment. I had a loaf of freshly baked lucky seven grain bread that I sliced and spread the soft buttery roasted garlic cloves on one slice and caramelized onion chutney on the other slice with thinly sliced honey turkey breast that created a delicious turkey sandwich with intense elevated flavor.
One of my favorite things to do with the roasted garlic infused olive oil, is to drizzle it over fresh tomatoes, avocado or roasted potatoes (any roasted vegetables). Anything you would finish with a little drizzle of olive oil can also be drizzled with the rich garlic infused flavored olive oil.
Whether it’s a hot sunny day or a rainy hot day that you are trying to escape, while staying indoors here’s a productive way to spend the afternoon preserving herbs and creating flavor filled pestos and oils to elevate your summer and future Fall and Winters dishes and maybe even create a few gifts for the holidays.