I would apologise to my many readers for the lack of posts lately, but I don’t really have any. Regardless, it’s been a while. Despite working in the exciting food industry, I can’t write about what I’m working on so he’s some thoughts on herbs.
Thanks to the weather lately, my amazing new garden is currently blossoming. I have flowers I’ve never heard of growing out of my ears and am having to learn a lot about dead-heading, pruning and compost. People my age are normally worried about other sorts of botanicals.
However, I’m exceptionally happy to have an abundance of every herb under the sun. So I thought I’d write a little about what I do when I have excess herbs. They’re at their best at the moment, soft and supple and full of flavour / aroma so don’t let them go to waste if you’re struggling to find ways to use them.
In helping you decide what to do with all your herbs it may be worth remembering their flavoursome chemical compounds. You don’t need to know that basil contains a compound called Estragole or that there’s Deconoic Acid in coriander but it’s worth noting that they are normally either fat soluble or water soluble. Water soluble flavours found in fresh, leafy herbs are easily brought out in water, in drinks or sprinkled on top of dishes. Fat soluble flavours which come from woodier herbs need some sort of fatty base or solvent (alcohol) to infuse into i.e. rosemary in a casserole, they need much more time to release their flavour and can be quite bitter if eaten raw, unlike leafier herbs.
Fat-soluble / woody herbs – thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, bay.
Water-soluble / leafy herbs – mint, basil, dill, chives, coriander, parsley.
Herby Ice Cubes – Probably the simplest thing you can do. Put some leafy herbs like mint (fruit works too) into an ice cube tray and pour water over the top before freezing. To make these extra cool, boil some water and leave to cool before using this for the ice cubes. This makes them super clear.
Thyme Gin – I find thyme works well with gin but you could easily apply this method to make rosemary vodka or some other crazy concoction, go wild. Take a bottle of simple gin without a strong flavour and place in a saucepan. Heat until boiling then take off the heat. Fill the empty bottle about 1/4 full with some washed thyme and slowly and carefully pour the gin back into the bottle. Keep for a week and strain through a sieve before putting back in the bottle.
Pesto – A classic and if you have a decent mini-blender, then one of the simplest things you can make with herbs. Basil, pesto, coriander all work well but so do roasted tomatoes and rocket. Two big handfuls of herbs, 1 small garlic cloves, a handful of grated parmesan, zest and juice of half a lemon, plenty of salt and pepper and a couple of tbsp of toasted nuts (pine nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds all work well). Wizz this up into a paste using olive oil to bring it together. Store in sterlised jars or used straight away on pasta etc but also as a flavouring in mash, sauces and salad dressings.
Rosemary Butter – Another thing you can do very easily in a blender or a pestle and mortar. Smash or wizz up some herbs, add some garlic and citrus zest and pepper if you like, add some softened, salted butter and combined well. Place this on some cling film and roll it up into a sausage. Keep in the fridge or even the freezer. Slice off a piece whenever needed to top a steak, jacket potato, steamed veg or use it for garlic bread.
Mint Sauce – Do it right and this could keep until the next lot of spring lamb comes along. In a small saucepan heat 4 parts white wine or cider vinegar to 1 part sugar. This needed be a lot. For a small jar you’ll need about 200ml of vinegar and about 4 handfuls of mint leaves. Bring the vinegar and sugar to the boil and simmer until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture begins to become a sticky syrup. Take off the heat and leaf to cool slightly. Chop the mint finely by hand or use a blender. Mix with the syrup and put into sterilised jars. This sugar syrup method helps suspend the meat leaves in the vinegar, rather than producing a separated mess.
Bay Leaf Pancotta – An unusual one I’ll admit but using herbs in your desserts can bring a great depth of aroma. Simmer 1/2 pint of milk and 1/2 pint of double cream with 5 bay leaves and some a sprinkle of lemon zest for 30 minutes. Leave to infuse overnight. Reheat with 100g sugar and either a sachet of gelatine or 4 softened gelatine leaves. Make sure the sugar and gelatine have dissolves and place into individual jelly moulds or in a retangular plastic tub for slicing once set. This will take a few hours to happen to best done the night before needed. Serve with some fruit but nothing too strong or sour. This principal could be applied to a simple lemon tart also. Take any recipe and follow it as you normally would. However, whatever quantity of lemon juice it states, infuse this overnight with a handful of basil leaves. Basil has an aniseed perfume about it which matches the lemon very well.
If you read this, I hope it has inspired you not to waste your herbs, to try and preserve them or at least try something different with them. They should be a main feature in your cooking this summer when many of us have more thyme on our side.