Lost in all the rightful garden hullabaloo, starting with asparagus and ending with kabocha squash, with tomatoes, chilis and corn thrown in between, are herbs. Herbs are the crops which linger in the shadows, left to overgrow and bolt, but remain essential to making delicious food. Imagine pickles without dill. Imagine pesto without basil, or a mojito without mint.
Even if they do not receive the same hype as other crops, we continue to plant herbs, and almost without fail, they continue to grow. Sometime each summer, herb gardens explode with enough plants to overwhelm even the most devoted garnisher. When this happens, be ready for it.
For culinary purposes, I split herbs into two categories. Soft herbs, which I typically add after cooking, are tender and leafy, imparting their essence without needing to be cooked. Examples include mint, cilantro, basil and chives. Hard herbs, including, rosemary, sage, marjoram and thyme, are perennials with woody stems and tough leaves that should be added at the beginning of the cooking process. Once you understand these categories, handling excess herbs becomes easier.
Freeze Soft Herbs
Freezing works best with soft herbs. Chop the herbs, pack them tightly into an ice-cube tray, gently pour water over top, and freeze. When you need a particular herb, thaw a cube.
Dry Hard Herbs
Hard herbs take well to drying. The flavors in their super-fragrant leaves concentrate as they dry. Immediately after snipping, tie the herbs with butcher’s twine and hang them in a cool, dark place to dry. The drying herbs will lend subtle aromas to the area where you are drying them—an added benefit. I like to keep the herbs wrapped in the butcher’s twine and simply squeeze a branch to crumble a bit of the herbs into the cooking vessel.
No matter what time of year, it’s never too early to plan how you will use herbs straight from the garden. You can play around with flavor combinations to get maximum flavor and still have enough basil for your pesto and rosemary for your roast.
About the Author: Mark Smercek is the author of Hobby Farms’ “Well Seasoned” food column.