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October 11, 2010 - Eric Paddock
For most people, the thoughts of harvest time bring to mind images of pumpkins and cornucopia filled with fruits and vegetables.
For me and my postage-stamp-sized yard, it means that my herbs are being played out by time and temperature.
I grow six herbs, five of them in large crocks. The crocks contain rosemary, thyme, chives, oregano and sweet basil.
About two years ago I put a couple tiny spearmint plants near a moist corner of the house. The spearmint is now threatening to overtake the yard. I think I planted it because it just smells so nice when I hit it with the mower.
This was an excellent growing season for herbs in Warren.
I had bumper crops of all of them. Well, the rosemary not so much, but enough that it was there when I needed it.
But, alas, to everything there is a season, and this is the season to preserve as much of the goodness of those herbs so that in the bleak depths of winter I can add them to dishes with the knowledge that they will be nearly as flavorful as they were when they were at their peak.
Ah, those evenings after tasting a simmering sauce that begged for help I could simply step out my back door and strip off some basil leaves to crush and then stir in. When I contemplated a steak, the rosemary and the thyme were waiting for the base of my rub.
It doesn’t have to end, you know.
Here are a couple things I do:
— Chives and thyme dry nicely. Yes, they’ll be dried and hence not so much different than what you can buy off the shelf in the supermarket, but you’ll know they’re yours and you can pretend they’re better.
— Rosemary can also be dried. It takes a little longer and the leaves can be a bit like pine needles when you’re done. I like to dry them and then mash the heck out of them in a mortar and pestle.
— Oregano: I don’t know why I grow oregano, since I use so little of it.
Now, for the basil, my favorite herb and the base for an absolutely wonderful seasoning mixture — pesto. Pick as much basil as you have and fill up a food processor. Add chopped fresh garlic, course salt, some parmesan cheese (note the lack of measurements here), and start up the engine. As it’s masticating start drizzling in olive oil. The mixture will reduce to about 10 percent of its original volume, so keep adding more basil and more of this and that until you’ve run out of basil.
Not too salty, not too bland is what you are looking for. The consistency should be fine, but not reduced to atoms.
You’ve already bought a couple of those old-fashioned plastic ice trays. Put a teaspoon of the pesto in each cavity, cover the thing in plastic wrap and freeze it. After it’s solid, dump the cubes into a sealable plastic storage bag.
Got a hankering for great pasta sauce in January? God created basil to marry with almost anything that contains tomatoes. Want to go minimalist with linguine in February? Make some youself — the topic of a previous blog — and then toss the pasta in a pan with olive oil and a couple of the handy-dandy pesto cubes and pretend you are in Tuscany.
Maybe I should forget about the oregano — even the chives, for that matter — and just grow more basil.
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