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What To Do With Herbs

I try to grow the herbs I need for cooking but sometimes my supply falls short. It could be the weather, it could be that the new puppy knocked the pot over and the plants smashed, or it could just be that I’ve used so much that it needs time to re-grow.  So I occasionally have to purchase bunches of cut herbs.  The drawback is that the bunch is too big and I end up wasting a lot if I can’t use it within a couple days. So what is the best way to keep cut herbs fresh? Well, that depends.

I bought cilantro by the stalk in Puerto Rico and the roots were still attached. It was easy to keep that fresh by keeping the stalks in the refrigerator with the roots in a small amount of water.  But when I buy most herbs here, there are no roots attached.  If the weather is dry and cool, I find that trimming the stems of the cilantro bunch and putting the bunch in a glass of water keeps the bunch fresh for a few days.  The key is to use it as quickly as possible!  If the weather is warm and humid, I will gently dry the bunch by wrapping it in a paper towel, and store it in the fridge in a dry paper towel. I’ll try to plan a couple meals that use cilantro so I can use as much as possible before it rots.

Parsley keeps significantly better than cilantro.  If you make sure the leaves are dry, it will keep right on the countertop in a glass of water for several days.  When I buy parsley that is marketed in a plastic bag, it seems to keep well right in the bag for about a week. Recently I started preserving herbs in olive oil in ice cube trays. This works best with tough herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme and oregano.  A recipe might call for sautéing onions and garlic at the beginning and this is where you would add these tougher herbs. This freezer/olive oil method wouldn’t work so well with softer herbs like dill, mint or basil that would probably be added raw to a dish. Coarsely chop a handful of herbs and stuff them into ice cube trays. Carefully fill the tray with olive oil and put the tray in the freezer.  The frozen cubes can be left right in the tray if you have enough trays to spare, or you can remove the blocks and store them in labeled freezer bags.

My favorite herb though, is basil.  Basil stays pretty fresh with cut stems in a glass of water. It doesn’t stick around long enough to go bad in my house once tomatoes ripen. Tomato lovers know that basil belongs on the top of the slices with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. But the best way to preserve the fresh taste of basil for a long time is to make pesto. Italian for ‘paste,’ pesto is a mash-up of basil, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and freshly grated parmesan cheese.  I suppose that there are as many variations on pesto as there are cooks. Here’s mine.

2 C packed basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
½ C pine nuts
¾ C Parmesan Cheese
2/3 C good quality Olive Oil
Process the basil and garlic in a food processor.
Add pine nuts and process until fine
Add grated Parmesan cheese until well blended
Drizzle olive oil in gradually.
Freeze in ice cube trays or small ‘snack-size’ plastic bags. Add to shrimp, pasta, pasta salads or anything you want!

What do you put pesto on?