As I write this, I’m sitting on my patio staring at my herbs. The basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary, cilantro and oregano (back from a one-year hiatus!) are polite and restrained, for now. In a pot of its own, the sage, so large it’s practically a tree at this point, threatens to take over, well, everything. Soon the others will start to catch up, and I’m going to need to use a lot of them, pronto.
The need to burn through a ton of herbs is a conundrum many of us face whether we are growing our own or had to buy bunches for a recipe that only used a little bit. Thankfully, herbs are delicious, versatile and prime for long-term preservation. Here are some ideas to use the bounty.
- Make pesto, or other herb-heavy sauces and condiments. Pesto is the most obvious, so we might as well get it out of the way first. Basil reigns at the top of the list, but cilantro, mint, dill and parsley are all fair game. Don’t be limited by thinking you must do a single-herb pesto, either. Mix and match based on your supplies or taste. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to adapt pesto on the fly, tasting in between additions in your food processor.
- Other options on the saucy spectrum: South American chimichurri and Indian chutney. Even a standard vinaigrette can be punched up with herbs. Last week I made a brilliantly green and fresh vinaigrette by using my immersion blender to blitz together a fistful of basil with olive oil, white wine vinegar and a tiny bit of Dijon mustard.
- Preserve them for the long-term. The good thing about herbs is you don’t have to use them right now if you don’t want to. There are ways to hang on to them for cooler times ahead. I find that pesto freezes extraordinarily well (I leave out the cheese and typically use pecans or walnuts instead of pine nuts), so if that’s the only thing you choose to do, you’ll be more than pleased.
- Drying herbs is another possibility. Tie them together in small bunches with twine or string and hang them in a dry spot with good air circulation. You want to check them daily, according to “Cooking With Herbs” by Susan Belsinger and Carolyn Dille, and you’ll know when they’re ready if they crackle and crumble when rubbed between your fingers. You can extract further moisture by drying them on a baking sheet in a 200-degree oven for 3 to 5 minutes. Then you can store them — off the stem but still as whole leaves — in a clean jar with a tightfitting lid.
- Treat them more like other greens. As cookbook author Martha Holmberg so eloquently explained: “The key is to think of herbs — particularly the tender ones — not as accents used in mere tablespoons but rather as star players tossed in by fistfuls and cupfuls. Think of them as leafy greens and use them abundantly, and with abandon.”
- Recipe developer and food writer Ali Slagle is similarly a fan of using herbs as you would other greens. In her Herbs and Their Stems Salad, she makes sure to use as much of the cilantro, parsley or dill as she can. The leaves are treated just like the baby lettuces in the mix. The stems, however, are chopped for a flavorful, crunchy addition that Slagle says you can think about as you would celery. Definitely make the salad, but also think about where else herb stems can serve the same purpose, such as in egg or chicken salad.
- Steep them. Herbs can be used to flavor a variety of liquids, for enjoyment now or later. One of the most straightforward is an herbal tea (or ptisan), whether you decide to steep fresh or dried herbs. As with many of the other ideas here, feel free to mix and match to come up with your own custom blend.
- Another option is to make an aromatic simple syrup, the standard 1-to-1 mix of sugar and water.
- Of course, there’s always ice cream. Steep fresh herbs in your cooled, or cooling, ice cream base. Mint naturally goes with chocolate chunks or freckles, though you can expand your horizons to think about pairing thyme with lemon and/or honey and basil with blueberry.