It's been raining off and on this fall. In between showers I have been collecting, drying and putting away herbs for the even less clement weather to come.
Recently, in a moment of madness or startling kitchen wisdom (I am not sure which), I threw out all the little jars and tins of store-bought herbs I had been keeping in the cupboard since the early '70s. They went directly into the garbage pail because on opening a bottle of what was labeled rosemary my nose could not tell it apart from the thyme or tarragon beside it on the shelf. They all smelled like dried hay.
Throughout the years I have developed some advice on herb storage, and this is the time to put it to use and share it with my readers.
The Best Storage Method
The best way to store herbs on a pantry shelf is in oil. Basil, sage, marjoram leaves and the like should be crammed into a wide-mouthed jar with a tight-fitting lid and immersed in the best olive oil. It is really not the luxury it sounds because you can use the flavored oil as well as the aromatic herbs.
--Another trick is to blend fresh herbs with small amounts of oil then pour the mixture into ice-cube trays. Freeze them first, then keep the herbs in plastic bags carefully labeled for future use. One cube equals 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh herbs.
--Tarragon and rosemary branches remain remarkably fragrant when layered in coarse salt--preferably in a tin with a tight-fitting lid. The leaves may darken when exposed to light but remain highly potent just the same.
--For times when fresh mint is in short supply, pack leaves into a half-pint jar and fill it with creme de menthe. The liqueur keeps the mint highly pungent and will turn into an herbal-essence for seasoning frozen vegetables such as peas or string beans.
--In drying rosemary or tarragon keep those herbs trimmed to short lengths in a canister where you store tea. The dried tea will keep the fresh stems from growing moldy, and the herbs will produce a most tonic infusion.
--Parsley is available throughout the year. But parsley that is chopped will have a longer, greener shelf-life if you add a slice of cut apple before you cover and refrigerate it.
--Cilantro is a hard herb to find at the greengrocer. When you're lucky enough to find it fresh, preserve it tucked into a bottle of vodka. The green stays green but the vodka turns pure gold.
The following are two of my favorite dishes that depend on a sprinkling of more-or-less fresh herbal seasonings for their savor. Try them both with the aforementioned stand-ins for newly picked herbs.
BRAISED KOHLRABI WITH TARRAGON
1 1/2 to 2 pounds kohlrabi, trimmed, peeled
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup strong chicken broth
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
Chopped fresh parsley
Cut peeled kohlrabi bulbs into strips about 3 inches long and 1/4 inch thick.
Melt butter in large heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add kohlrabi strips, tossing well to coat. Add broth and tarragon. Cook, covered, until just tender, about 15 minutes. Remove cover and raise heat slightly. Cook until golden. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.
Not precisely a risotto, the following rice dish is a look-alike baked in the oven instead of hand-stirred. Use the mint you put up unstintingly as a garnish.
MINTED TOMATO RICE
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots or onion
1 cup rice
1 1/2 cups chopped, seeded tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
2 cups hot strong chicken broth
Dash hot pepper sauce
Bouquet garni composed of 1 sprig parsley, 1 sprig thyme, 1 bay leaf, 1 clove garlic
2 tablespoon chopped fresh mint for garnish
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in Dutch oven. Saute shallots until golden. Add rice. Stir until rice turns milky in color.
Add tomatoes, sugar, chicken broth and hot pepper sauce. Heat to boiling and add bouquet garni. Cover and bake 18 minutes in 350-degree oven. If rice is still wet after 18 minutes, remove cover and bake until liquid is evaporated.
Discard bouquet garni. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Sprinkle with mint. Makes 6 to 8 servings.