Last weekend brought the first threat of an autumn freeze, so I decided it was time to harvest the herbs from our garden. Our kitchen smelled amazingly fresh and fragrant as I piled the counter top high with basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, chives, oregano, mint, and lemon balm.
Air-drying culinary herbs requires both adequate space with good ventilation and some sort of protection from dust (or, in our case, massive amounts of pet hair). Instead of figuring out how to make an herb drying operation work in our little bungalow, I turned to some alternative methods for preserving herbs: freezing, freezing in oil, and drying in salt.
To freeze fresh herbs, simply chop them up (or, in the case of small herbs like thyme, just strip the leaves) and seal them up in a freezer bag, making sure to press out as much air as you can.
Some herbs with particularly volatile oils, like basil, freeze better in oil. Whiz up the basil in a food processor with some good quality olive oil. Spoon the mixture into ice cubes trays or small baggies, top with another layer of olive oil, and freeze. Once the cubes are frozen solid, you can pop them out of their trays and store them all together in a large freezer bag.
Since we make pesto frequently, this is our favorite method for preserving basil. We just thaw out a few cubes and mix them with minced garlic and whatever ground nuts and grated cheese we’re in the mood for that day. You can also use the thawed cubes for any other recipe that calls for olive oil and fresh basil, including salad dressings and marinades.
Drying herbs in salt not only preserves the herbs, but also flavors the salt itself. You can chop the herbs by hand if you prefer larger pieces and then mix them with coarse salt in a jar. Or, you can blitz the herbs and salt together in a food processor for a finer texture. I use about 1/4 cup herbs to 3/4 cup kosher salt, but the proportions are adjustable to your own tastes. Store the herbs and salt in a cool, dark place, shaking the jar occasionally, for about two weeks before using.
I’m happily contemplating a whole winter of continuing to enjoy my herb garden’s bounty!