An assortment of herbs, plus carrot tops, for making pesto and freezing
Photo by Heather Cross
It still feels like summer, but the days are shorter and a change in the weather is imminent. Basil is abundant at the market right now, but cold weather will be here before we know it. Stock up on basil and other fresh herbs now and have plenty of pesto or plain herbs for seasoning, for months to come.
I’m sure you have plenty of dried herbs and spices in your cabinets - I know I do. Some herbs are just better fresh, though, or are at least different enough to warrant having both around. Chattanooga is a mild enough climate that evergreen herbs such as rosemary and thyme are green year-round. Cilantro prefers cooler weather. Basil loves the heat, though, and many other herbs will not be found in our coldest days, and none if we get any snow or ice!
Freezing is a great way to preserve fresh herbs. They won’t have the same texture as fresh but they will still provide the flavor and color that you cannot get without them. There are several ways to go about freezing herbs. First think about what herbs you like to use often and what you miss having handy in winter. Do you miss pesto or just a little green to give color to a cream soup? Do you have a favorite herb that you’d like to have on hand all the time? Or, perhaps you just have some fresh herbs that you want to use up before they go bad.
The easiest and quickest way to freeze fresh herbs is as-is. Make sure they’re clean and dry, organize them into amounts you’d like to use, pop in a ziploc bag, and freeze. Note that they will not look the same thawed as they did fresh but will still be good for seasoning cooked dishes or made into purees. You can also chop them before freezing, making them even more appropriate as a garnish.
Going a step further, herb ice cubes make consistently proportioned frozen herbs. Pack an ice cube tray full of herbs, cover with water, and freeze. Pop out of the molds and store in labeled bags. Or, go a step further and puree the herbs with water or another liquid. For instance, cilantro pureed with lime could be appropriate for a mexican-style dish. Just be sure to label it well, in case you don’t always want lime with your cilantro!
Next up is preserving in butter or oil. We haven’t gotten to pesto yet; this is just plain herbs in your choice of oils. First decide how you want to use your finished herbs: as a spread or dip for bread, a topping for cooked meat or fish, or other garnish for a finished dish? You can pick any herb you enjoy for such a use. If, however, you want to begin a recipe, such as a soup, with the herbs in oil, choose sturdy, woody herbs such as thyme or rosemary for that purpose. The flavors of soft herbs won’t hold up to long cooking. Even though they’re cold tolerant, you might want to have some cubes of the hardier herbs in oil just for convenience sake. It will be one less step in preparing your meal to have herbs at the ready. For either purpose use small herb leaves whole, or tear, chop, or puree larger herbs, again to your preference. Blend with softened butter and freeze in ice cube trays, dollops on a lined cookie sheet (then transferred to bags or containers once frozen), or, after chilling, rolled into a log like cookie dough. For olive oil, prepare your herbs, then add to ice cube trays and cover with oil. Or, puree the herbs with oil and pour into trays. Remove the desired amount from the freezer when you start cooking and they will be sufficiently thawed to add to a hot meal when it’s done. Or, cubes can be added to hot soup to help bring it down to serving temperature.
Finally, preserving pesto is not very different from preserving herbs in other ways. Although you can make pesto year round with ingredients other than basil, it’s easy enough to set aside a winter’s worth of basil pesto in your freezer. Make your favorite pesto recipe and then choose the storage method that suits you best. Jars work if you go through a large amount within a week or so; just remember to take it out of the freezer long enough ahead of time for it to thaw! Cubes or frozen dollops (you can measure them if you’d like to be precise) probably work well for most people. They thaw quickly and you can choose your amounts to freeze and use. Another method is to spread out your pesto thinly on a lined cookie sheet, freeze, and then break into chunks like candy bark. The pesto freezes solid but breaks apart easily into your preferred serving size. You can add just a taste to a serving of soup or use more for a family’s worth of pasta.
I like to use silicone ice cube trays for my herbs and pesto. The frozen herbs pop out of the flexible molds better than stiff trays. The shapes are cute, too, but also the flowers I chose have petals that are easy to break off for small amounts.
Experiment and have fun!
Clockwise from top: cilantro-lime, pesto, chives, and cilantro
Photo by Zachary Cross
Photos by Zachary Cross
Fall is just around the corner and with it, greens return to the market. I was pleased to see chard at the market last week. It’s a green that can, to a point, handle our hot summers, but this dry, hot one was a bigger challenge than usual. Hopefully fall will bring rain as well as cooler temperatures - and with them, many more greens!
Chard, or Swiss Chard, is a relative of beets, which is most obvious when you look at the red varieties, named things like rhubarb or ruby. Like rhubarb, beet greens, and spinach, chard is high in oxalic acid, which lends it a tangy flavor (and makes rhubarb - otherwise unrelated to chard - unpalatable to most without sugar, and its leaves toxic!). Unlike stronger greens such as collards, there is no bitterness in chard, but, unlike spinach, it does have a distinctive, earthy flavor.
Chard comes in several other colors, in addition to red, making it a beautiful addition to the market and your table. The stem and veins can be white, yellow, red, pink and orange. The leaves are mostly bright green, except in the reddest varieties, which are a dark green and red. The names are colorful: pink flamingo, bright lights, rainbow, silverado, and oriole, to name a few varieties.
Tiny chard leaves find their way into salad mixes, and chard leaves of all sizes can be prepared like spinach or kale. But what about the stems? For a sauté or stir fry you can simply start the chopped stems first and then add the greens as the stems begin to get tender. The stems are wonderful on their own, though. Their bright colors are beautiful in pickles, sautés, and baked.
A new recipe for me this year is chard stem hummus. It’s really more like baba ganouj: a vegetable cooked until soft and blended with tahini and seasonings into a savory dip. The color of the dip depends on the color of the stems. White chard looks most like a regular hummus while darker pinks and reds turn it pink. I’m a sucker for pink so I went with the darkest pinks and reds I had. With a sprinkle of green herbs it’s a beautiful color combination.
Unlike baba ganouj this recipe surprisingly tastes most like regular, chickpea hummus. This is an excellent discovery for someone wanting to use up leftover stems or feed someone eating paleo-style. Or just for fun and something colorful and different! This recipe comes from Tara Duggan’s Root-to-Stalk Cooking, via Food 52.
From Root to Stalk Cooking by Tara Duggan
Makes 1 cup
Photo by Circle S Farm
Before the season changes can be a tough time to cook. The tomatoes are dying off, the fall veggies aren’t coming in yet, and it seems like I’ve made everything already. Of course this isn’t true so I sat down with my cookbooks and looked through the summer sections. In A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen I came across a recipe that sounded yummy and promised to be pretty and summery, too: Chilled Curried Yellow Squash Soup with Cilantro-Lime Puree.
Despite my moaning about fall crops not coming in yet, cilantro has made a reappearance at the market. Summer squash is still plentiful as well. I ended up using a spaghetti squash for this recipe, but any summer squash should work. Bishop says, “You can use zucchini instead of yellow squash (the flavor is much the same), but you’ll lose the visual contrast between the yellow soup and the green puree.” If you are concerned about color, just peel the dark green skin of the squash lightly. I think the color mainly comes from the turmeric in the curry powder, so you just don’t want to dilute that.
I did use a Yukon Gold potato in place of the russet called for. It’s what I got from the market and I assumed it would help lean the color towards yellow. Also, this soup is plenty flavorful with just water, in case you are out of broth. The last tweak I made was to use butter to sauté the onion and squash - ghee would have been even better.
Since some of my kids are suspicious of cold soup, I was short on time, and Bishop says, “This subtle soup is delicious hot,” I chose to serve it hot for supper and cold for lunch the next day. I do like it best cold, though in cooler weather hot might be nice. The cilantro-lime puree keeps well in the fridge, but it’s prettiest immediately after blending.
This recipe inspired me to make various other curry-laden dishes for supper, including Kohlrabi with Peas and Potatoes from Simply in Season (recipe to come!).
From A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen by Jack Bishop
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ pounds yellow summer squash, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced gingerroot
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons curry powder
6 cups vegetable broth
1 medium russet potato (about 8 ounces), peeled and diced
½ cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon lime juice
Serves 6 to 8 as a first course
Go here for a printable recipe
Photo by Zachary Cross
Photos by Zachary Cross
I grew up in South Carolina and made many trips to the coast throughout my childhood. We often went out to eat, sampling the various fresh-caught fish that was available. Back at home, if Sunday meals were not spent with extended family we often went to Red Lobster, where I usually chose popcorn shrimp, but at least had a wide assortment of seafood to choose from. I love Chattanooga, but it's hard sometimes living in a landlocked state, so far from the ocean. I don't get there nearly as often as I did as a kid. And I don't eat out as often, either. If I want fish, I have to cook it myself!
After a lot of trial and error, often resulting in dry, overcooked fish, I came across Martha Stewart's recipe for parchment bluefish from Martha Stewart's Quick Cook Menus. This cookbook is another one divided into seasons and uses fresh ingredients, including the more unusual ones you might find in your CSA box or at the market. Bonus: Martha says each menu (52, one for each week of the year) can be made in an hour. I'm not sure I can manage that but that tells me that these are more doable recipes than many of Martha's others. There's more info about baking fish in parchment on Martha's website.
Often referred to in the French, baking "en papillote" helps fish to cook evenly and keeps it moist. This is done speedily at high heat in the oven so it definitely belongs in a "quick cook" menu. Although I've had trouble with fish drying out, overcooking, or cooking unevenly in the past, this method works for me every time. The only time I have ever had trouble with it is when a vacation rental oven quit working and dropped temperature, even in the short time I was baking it! Even then I managed to salvage the fish. It ended up being overdone, but melted in our mouths, and had not ended up dry and chewy like most overcooked fish.
Note: this method works for fillets. I've not tried it with steaks or other cuts.
I had eaten Pickett's Trout Ranch fillets at area restaurants for a while before I found out they would be available at MSFM. I was so excited! Trout is a favorite around our house and I am pleased to have it locally sourced and conveniently available.
Martha's original recipe calls for sautéing shallots to add to the fish, as well as using slices of lemon for flavoring and moisture. The recipe also calls for fresh oregano and parsley. One day I decided to sub herbs for both the shallots and lemon, using chives and lemon thyme in addition to the parsley and oregano, and the prep time got even faster. You can use any fresh herbs that strike your fancy and that you find at the market. I've used basil, lemon balm, mint, parsley, thyme, and marjoram - and typically combinations of herbs. For the fish pictured I used a combination of parsley, oregano, lemon thyme, chives, and garlic chives - it's my standard mix. Some recipes include vegetables such as summer squash or tomato inside the parchment.
The key to good fish is sealing the parchment well. Use a bigger piece than you think you need and try it at least the first time with a circle. Crimp the edges well, starting at one side and finishing on the other. Here's a video that shows how. I have not tried the egg white recommended in the video; I've always had good success without it.
The original recipe called for an oven temperature of 450 but, thanks to Fahrenheit 451, I keep it down at 425 or 400. I've seen recipes as low as 350, so you can choose a temperature based on other items you are baking, just give it a little longer time for lower temps.
Adapted from Parchment Bluefish from Martha Stewart’s Quick Cook Menus
1 tsp butter
1 sprig each fresh oregano, parsley, lemon thyme, and chives - or fresh herbs of your choice
1 Pickett’s trout fillet
Here's a printable version.
Roasted veggies are a convenient accompaniment: get the veggies started and, when they are nearly finished, throw in the fish. Add a fermented veggie (kimchi green beans from Harvest Roots Ferments shown here), possibly some bread, and your meal is complete!