Summer Flavor in any Season
|Lovely as they are in your garden, culinary herbs give their best performance at the table. Nothing beats that fresh picked flavor, but many herbs can be preserved for winter use, and they will still be much fresher than the dried herbs available in supermarkets. Don't wait until the threat of frost forces you to rush out in the evening to pull up the basil. Now is a good time to begin filling your herb jars.
* Harvest culinary herbs on a cool day, snipping the stems in the morning after the dew has evaporated. Select the young growth, cut 6- to 12-inch-long stems, wash them, and remove any dead or diseased leaves.
* As you're harvesting, snip off any flowers. This will encourage the buds below the flowers to grow, making more leaves for you to harvest. Once a plant flowers, it produces fewer leaves, and the concentration of oils in the leaves is reduced.
* To air dry herbs, cut a handful of stems, wrap a rubber band around the stems or tie them together with string, and hang the herbs upside down in a cool, airy place, out of sunlight. You can also lay your herbs on a screen or paper towel to dry. They should dry within 2 weeks.
* Herbs can be dried in a microwave, but it takes careful monitoring. Dry them in small batches and leave them in for only 30 seconds at a time until they're crumbly when you roll a piece between your thumb and forefinger.
* After drying, store herbs in airtight containers in a cool, dry place, away from sunlight.
* Herbs can also be frozen. Tough-stemmed herbs, such as basil, tarragon, and sage, should have their leaves removed prior to freezing. Then pack the clean leaves into plastic baggies or into freezer containers and place them in the freezer.
* Basil should be blanched before freezing, or it will turn black. Simply put basil leaves into a strainer and pour boiling water over them. Drain and freeze in the size portions you think you'll need. Herbs such as dill or parsley freeze well if they're separated into sprigs and frozen individually, then packed into one large container.
* Another easy way to freeze herbs is in ice cube trays. Chop the leaves, pack them into the ice cube trays, cover with water, and freeze. Store the cubes in plastic bags in the freezer and pop them into soups and other dishes as you prepare them over the winter.