Tuesday, August 12, 2008

the herbs

In all the years I never had the space for a proper garden, I always managed to have a sweet little herb bed to cultivate and nurture along - well, inasmuch as one can nurture an herb bed... They require little to no support whatsoever - just some sun and a few kind words (lucky for me!). So, this spring when I found myself in a new home with scads of earth to fill, one of the first things I undertook was the herb bed:

I'm so, so happy I did.

Now we're in the height of summer (fading oh, so quickly) and it's time to save what I can from this verdant and intoxicatingly fragrant plot of earth.
So, today I have two recipes for making the most of a variety of herbs.

First, the butters:
Chive-Parsley and Rosemary-Tarragon Butters

Really, just about any herb works well here - variations abound*


For the Chive-Parsley Butter:

1 stick butter (salted or unsalted - your preference), softened
1 small bunch fresh chives, chopped
1 large handful fresh parsley, coarsely chopped

For the Rosemary-Tarragon Butter:

1 stick butter (salted or unsalted - your preference), softened
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves stripped from stems
1 very large sprig fresh tarragon, leaves stripped from stems

For each butter, combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse to combine; continue to run machine until herbs are finely chopped and incorporated into the butter (cleaning the machine before making a butter using different herbs).

At this point, the butter may be used immediately, refrigerated or frozen for future use: using a rubber spatula, remove the herbed butter and place on a piece of waxed (or parchment) paper, using the paper, roll the softened butter into a small log, wrap tightly and freeze or refrigerate (if you're lucky enough to own a decorative butter mold, I think that would make a very nice presentation). I've been freezing mine to use in the winter when a bit of butter is a warming addition to hot-from-the-oven bread and just the ticket for rubbing under the skin of a chicken to be roasted.

*I also often mix thyme or lemon thyme in with a bit of butter for roasting chicken. These butters are also very nice additions to steamed or sauteed vegetables, corn on the cob, roasted potatoes, etc. I think it would be interesting to try making a lavender butter to use in a shortbread or oatmeal cookie recipe, too - maybe I'll try that one next... Of course, then there's cinnamon and honey butter...

Then, there's the basil...

Basic Pesto

I know pesto is about as common as salsa these days, but it's still a good pantry staple in my household - I make a batch or two each summer and then freeze them to be added a chunk at a time to minestrone's and other soups for a bit of summer in the depths of winter. Also, this recipe is quite adaptable to variations.


1/4 Cup pine nuts, toasted
3 Cups packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 Cup grated Parmesan cheese
3-4 cloves of garlic
1/4 Cup good olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Add the pine nuts, basil, cheese and garlic to the bowl of a food processor. Start the machine and when the contents have just started to come together, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream through the feed. If a looser consistency is desired, more olive oil may be added. When incorporated, turn off the machine and season with salt and pepper (sometimes a pinch or two of red pepper flakes is a nice addition too). At this point I transfer the pesto to a freezer-safe container, layer a piece of plastic-wrap over the surface, put the lid on, and freeze it for future use. This year, I decided to try putting the pesto into ice cube trays and then transferring the cubes to a zip-lock bag for freezing - we'll see if this really is more convenient...
Of course, it is always tempting to eat it straight out of the bowl on a cracker...


natrontheape said...

You HAVE to try making this by hand with a Mezzaluna knife. It takes like 30 minutes, but it is absolutely glorious... So fun to make the little basil cake and then add olive oil to watch it expand into pesto!

januarygypsy said...

Gee. I would love to make it the 'real' way with a mezzaluna. Maybe SOMEBODY should buy me one...