Enjoying a big bounty of fresh herbs from the garden or in your Boston Organics box? Fresh is best when it comes to cooking with them, but here are ten easy ways you can preserve them for year-round use.
1. Air/Hang Dry Method: If you have space and the time, you can tie small bunches together (about 4 or 5 cleaned stems) and hang them upside down in a dark, warm, well-ventilated area. The drying time is about 2 to 4 weeks - you want the leaves to be crispy and easily crumble between your fingers before you pack them for storage. If space is tight, here's a clever project you can make using old frames, fiberglass screens, chain and S hooks (for hanging in tiers): Hanging Frames Tutorial.
2. Oven: Arrange cleaned stems in a single layer on a cookie sheet with the temperature set at 180°F. Heat for about 4 hours, keeping the oven door open the entire time (to let moisture escape). Stir occasionally during this process.
3. Microwave: This a quick & easy method if you need them dried fast, but watch while you're heating to make sure they don't smoke or start on fire. Since microwaves cook differently, the times may vary for you. Remove all excess water, place no more than 4 to 5 herb branches between 2 paper towels, microwave on high for 2-3 minutes. You're looking for the herbs to be brittle and dry.
4. Cool Air: Wash then pat with a soft cloth to remove moisture. Layer a cookie sheet with paper towels and then arrange stems in a single layer. Place in the refrigerator and remove once they are completely dried (check daily). Does not work in crisper bins.
5. Salt or Sugar: Layer fresh leaves between salt or sugar (covering completely) and leave them until they are desiccated. Sift them out and store in airtight containers. Choose salt or sugar depending on the flavor of the herb and which would be better suited to it.
6. Ice Cubes: Chop then sprinkle into ice cube trays (measure into each cube the most common amount you use in cooking, for example, 1 tsp). Cover with water and freeze (can also cover with stock or olive oil). Pop them out once they're frozen and then re-pack in bags (remove as much air as possible from the bags first). When needed for cooking, just take out a cube and toss it in the dish that's cooking (thawing first is optional-remember to account for the extra liquid in your recipe). Nifty trick: Try mixing your favorite blends first. See this page for more details about using olive oil and/or melted butter instead of water.
7. Freezing Whole & Chopped: Wash and dry the leaves then store in bags with as much air removed as possible (you can also lay them in a single layer on a cookie sheet then pack in bags when frozen). Freeze. See a handy tip at the bottom of this page for crushing them quickly, you can also chop them first if you prefer.
8. Bulk Pastes (Pesto): Wash clean then chop in a food processor, add enough oil to make a paste when blended (approximately 2 cups fresh herbs to 1/3 cup olive oil). Can be frozen in small containers (remove all air first by shaking and tapping the container then top with a fine layer of olive oil to seal paste against air). Thaw before using. Spoon out the required amount needed for cooking then store the rest in the refrigerator. The most common pesto is made from basil, but you can use others too (and combinations). You'll find a few recipes on this page.
9. Bulk Seasoning Salt: Have a ready supply of seasonings at your fingertips (create your own signature blend), whipping up batches only once a year and freezing until needed. See this page for more details.
10. Bulk Butters: Chop leaves and mix with butter to taste. Can be frozen in single serving butter pats or in cube sizes appropriate for cooking (just add the butter pat while the dish is cooking-remember to account for butter in recipe). Thaw before using. See this page for more details.