Often times, a recipe calls for just one or two teaspoons of fresh herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, or perhaps even epazote (an herb native to Central and South America that makes a pot of black beans a zesty pot of black beans). But once you mince up a few sprigs for your recipe, you’re left with a significant amount of fresh herbs that need to be used… soon.
If the herb in question is chives, parsley or cilantro – meaning, herbs with a lot of water in them – your best bet is to treat them like a bouquet of flowers: trim the stems, fill a jar with water and place on the counter (if you’ll use them within a day or two) or in the refrigerator (if you want them to last a little longer). Another way to preserve your leftover fresh herbs is in oil. My favorite is rosemary, since a sprig or two placed in a tall, slender jar of olive oil makes a beautiful display of the starring ingredient. If you can wait two weeks (four is even better), you’ll have a delicious herbed olive oil that can be mixed into salad dressings or drizzled atop roasted vegetables. It also makes a great homemade gift.
If you’re working with something stalkier, such as thyme, rosemary or oregano, your best bet for preservation is drying. Spread the herbs on a dinner plate and place them on the stove for a day or two, with the oven and burners off. The radiant heat from the pilot light will dry the herbs at a nice, slow pace without singeing the delicate stalks to a crisp. Try to flip them once or twice a day so that they dry evenly. (This method also works with the pilot light inside your oven – just be sure not to forget the herbs in there!) Once dried, strip the leaves off the stalks and store them in a small, airtight container in the cupboard, away from direct sunlight. You’ll notice that the herbs you dry yourself are much greener – and more flavorful – than the ones you buy at the store.
Since I run a small herb farm with my partner, we always have a lot of dried herbs on hand, and are constantly inventing new uses for them. One of our favorites is herbed butter – two ingredients that are a match made in heaven! Leave a stick of butter out on the counter for half a day, allowing it to soften, then place in a medium-sized bowl. Mix in your stove-dried herbs evenly with a spatula. To preserve some of the butter in the freezer, take a small saucer and cover it with a square of parchment paper. Scoop one to two tablespoons of the butter atop the paper and mold into a circle (the saucer acts as your shaping mechanism), then cover with another piece of parchment. Store these discs of deliciousness in a ziplock in the freezer. That way, you can thaw small amounts at the drop of a hat, impressing anyone who happens to stop by.
Recently, I also added our dried herbs to cream cheese, in the same way I use for making the herbed butter. The spread was so good I never even had time to freeze it! I also commonly mix herbs into a basic olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette, which brightens up a boring salad in an instant. Dried herbs also add extra kick to home-baked bread, especially when combined with minced garlic. Or to improve a plain log of fresh chèvre, crumble your dried herbs onto a dinner plate and roll the log until it’s dressed in herbs. Delicious!
Taylor Mardis Katz is a poet and a farmer living with her partner in the hills of central Vermont. Together, they run Free Verse Farm, a small herb farm specializing in culinary herbs, tisanes, medicinals and herbal remedies. Follow Taylor online at panacheperhaps.com.