Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tips on Freezing Herbs

Whether you buy herbs or grow your own, do you ever find that you have more than you know what to do with?

If you grow your own herbs the "abundance" issue is particular to this time of the year when one's veggie and herb garden is ripe for harvesting.

I had to laugh when a friend turned up for afternoon tea recently with a hostess gift of a bucket of basil. And that wasn't a typo, I did type bucket and not bunch.

In the hot, dry Colorado climate, basil will grow like a weed during a good growing season. Boulder's local community garden Growing Gardens, has in years past run a "Best Pesto" competition -- a great way for basil growers to make use of buckets of the green stuff.

I find that there's only so much pesto one can eat before the distinctive flavor becomes too much. In other words, pesto is not the sort of condiment that I can eat day in day out until all the summer basil has been eaten.

If I have lots of basil on hand (because a friend happens to drop by with a bucket full) and I don't intend eating it all at once, a trick I employ is this: In the pic to the left is a frozen container of basil which has been put through the blender with olive oil. That's it!

I'll freeze small containers of the blended oil and basil for use later, especially over the fall & winter. When I need basil, I simply unfreeze a container and keep it in my fridge and use spoonfuls to flavor soups and casseroles or I'll use a whole container as the base for making pesto, salsa verde, or tapenade.

You can try this method with other Italian herbs like tarragon, rosemary, (pic below), sage, thyme, and parsley. In fact, I often blend basil and parsley with oil for freezing. I like the combination; they're great flavor pals. Basil can be intense but combined with the parsley its intensity softens.

You could even do an Italian herb and garlic combo, blending the lot with olive oil and freezing the herb paste in ice-cube containers for use in winter stews, soups and casseroles.

Dill (on the far side of the plate in the pic to left) is a very delicate herb with a delicate flavor so I don't blend it with olive oil before freezing. I simply pop the whole stalk in a plastic bag and freeze it as is, breaking off frozen pieces when I need a little.

You can freeze all of the above herbs in plastic bags, rather than blending them with oil. They do tend to brown slightly, but I find freezing locks in the flavor.

During the winter, I'm more likely to cook with Italian herbs so brown edges and leaves are not an issue the way they would be if I wanted to use the herb as a pretty garnish.

I prefer freezing fresh herbs over drying them. I like that it locks in the flavor and color (more so when blended with oil). And freezing herbs is not as messy as having stalks of drying herbs hanging around in the kitchen or the pantry. That said, drying herbs give off a wonderful aroma (until they're completely dried), and make wonderful herbal potpourri.

Next week, I'm going to combine resources with my friend Cindy, the bucket-of-basil girl mentioned above. Cindy has a wonderful gift for combining herbs from her garden with spices from her pantry and creating the most delicious teas. She's offered to share some of her recipes with me for posting on this blog.


Unknown said...

Great suggestions, Louise. I've frozen extra pesto before, but never thought to freeze just the herb plus oil. There has been an abundance of herbs lately at the farmer's market, but I haven't wanted to buy too much and then have to throw it out. I see a big bag of fresh herbs in my near future.

Megan said...

I'm like Terri, I was going to make and freeze pesto but I like the basil and olive oil alone together. Also like the Italian herb mix. Brilliant! :)

Louise Ross said...

Thanks for your comments, Terri and Megan. Readers have appreciated the 'freezing tip' which I stumbled upon when I had a surplus of herbs in the fridge, but I didn't want to dry them, so I experimented with freezing them in oil, and it worked well!

Julie said...

I too freeze my herbs from the garden but I like to mix them with some Plugra butter. I find this keeps them so fresh!

By the way, I would like to share a 'how to' video I did on chopping fresh herbs:


Julie Webster

Louise Ross said...

Thanks for the tip about freezing herbs in Plugra, or European butter. And your video offers a great tip on slicing through fresh herbs, rather than chopping down on them!

Thx, Julie.