Monthly Archives: June 2012

Prepping for Pesto

For many years I’ve wanted to purchase the BIG olive oil.  But I could never really justify it.  Until now!

With five family members and a garden full of green stuff, it’s finally time for the big olive oil at our house.  This week I bought it in anticipation of making pesto.  While the basil in my garden isn’t quite ready to be picked yet, the arugula is going gangbusters and with the upcoming hot forecast it’s destined to bolt soon.

Since I was prepped for pesto-making, it was easy to throw together some arugula walnut pesto for my freezer this morning in between other household chores.

I’m at a point where I don’t use a recipe, but if you are looking for a starting point here are some measurements:

4 cups packed arugula leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Start food processor and drop in garlic cloves.  Once chopped, turn off processor, add arugula, walnuts, salt and pepper.  Process a bit, then while leaving processor on, stream in olive oil slowly.  Continue processing until it reaches a nice saucy consistency.

I do not put cheese in pesto I intend to freeze.  It’s nicer to add the cheese later when using the pesto.  That way the cheese is fresh and I can customize the amount depending on how I’m using the pesto.

Pesto freezes nicely in small serving size containers.

Many sources will tell you to freeze pesto in ice-cube trays.   If this works for you, fine.  But I find that it’s hard to remove them from the trays and it makes my ice-cube trays smell like pesto.  Not good when I need to chill my lemonade.  The serving size containers are so much easier to work with.  They sell small and even very small sizes of these containers, perfect for pesto.  I will never go back to the ice-cube tray method again.  (Just thought you’d like to know!)

Pesto can be pricey.  To save money it’s possible to substitute a more affordable nut, as I did with my arugula pesto.  The traditional pesto nut is a pine nut.  These are delicious and I do use them, especially with a basil pesto.  But it’s fun to experiment with other nuts and the results are almost always delicious.

I also save money by adding cheese later.  Sometimes I don’t even add cheese since it’s yummy without.  Or I will just put cheese over a dish made with pesto, such as sprinkled over pasta or a pizza made with pesto sauce.  Don’t try to save money by using the green can of Parmesan in pesto.  Always use a real wedge of cheese (domestic is fine, imported is divine) and grate it yourself.

And of course, the number one money-saver idea I can offer is to grow your ingredients yourself.  Basil (and arugula) are very easy to grow in a backyard garden or in pots.  You can grow a large amount and really stock up the freezer for the winter.  Parsley, mint and cilantro can also be used for making pesto…. each has its own unique flavor.

Turning Herbs Into Beverages

When we moved into this house four summers ago the only herb I’d ever grown was a small pot of basil.  I knew that had to change, so the very first thing we did that next spring was install a raised bed specifically for growing herbs.

Construction of the herb garden was a priority when we moved in to our new house.

Since that time I’ve really developed a love of herb gardening and especially a love of cooking with herbs.  I can’t even imagine NOT having herbs now.  Food would not be the same.

This year I’m looking for even more ways to use my herbs.  Since eating them is such a delight the natural next step would be drinking herbs.  This past week my kids picked chamomile flowers for me so I could preserve them for chamomile tea.  The process was simple.

My son picking chamomile flowers.

After soaking them in some salt water for 10 minutes to get the bugs off, I laid them out to dry on a towel.  Once the water had evaporated off, it was time for the oven.

I preheated the oven to 200 degrees then turned it off.  I place the chamomile on a parchment lined baking sheet and put it in the oven for a few hours.  When the oven was completely cooled again I took the sheet out, preheated again to 200 degrees, turned the oven off once more and put the sheet back in for a few more hours.  In all, it took about 4 hours to dry the chamomile.

Dried chamomile ready to be put in a jar for later use.

Then, all I had to do was put it in a jar with a nice tight lid and store it for a cool fall evening in the future.  I do love time traveling food.

Chamomile tea!

As chamomile flowers continue to blossom on my plant I’ll continue the process and hopefully fill up my jar.

The lavender was looking equally inviting this week so I decided to use it in a simple syrup recipe.

Lavender buds are best harvested just as they open.  I carefully selected which stems looked the best and clipped those off with my kitchen scissors.  Once in the house I used the same bug removing process that I did with the chamomile.

Picked lavender, I used a couple teaspoons in the simple syrup.

Just right for harvesting, some buds are open, some are not.

Soaking the lavender in salt water to remove bugs.

The next day, when the lavender was dry, I removed all the purple buds from the stems.

To make simple syrup I combine equal parts granulated sugar with water and bring to a boil.  To make a flavored syrup, I toss in whatever herb I’m using before I turn the heat on.  This time it was the lavender buds that I put in.  Once the syrup comes to a nice rolling boil, I turned it off and let the lavender steep until the syrup was no longer hot but just warm.  At this point I take a coffee filter lined strainer and putting that over a container I pour the syrup through it so that the lavender buds are left behind and syrup drips through.

The result is a nice clear lavender-scented simple syrup perfect for a cup of tea or a classy cocktail!

I used mine with some rum and club soda for a refreshing summer drink.  Yum!

This process works great with all herbs.  I’ve tried it with mint and the results were delicious.  Makes a potent mojito or mint julep.

My next herbal beverage project will be drying mint for mint tea.  I have a very healthy chocolate mint plant that is ready to be harvested.  The best time to harvest mint (and most leafy herbs) is just before it bolts and produces flowers.

It’s nice to use a large quantity of mint too because cutting the mint actually keeps the plant healthy.  And I’d much rather use the mint to make tea than toss it in my compost.

These are just a few ideas, there are so many ways to use herbs.  Can’t wait to hear YOUR ideas!  If you’ve got a good one, please leave a comment.