herbs

Classic Pesto Sauce

Classic Pesto Sauce

I can’t make pesto without wanting to call it green spaghetti. I had friends over for dinner one night. Their son was about 4 at the time. I had made pesto and tossed it over hot spaghetti. The little boy wasn’t quite sure about the big, green plate of pasta. He did agree to try it. Turned out he really liked it, and after that, when he came for dinner, he would ask for “Aunt Judi’s green spaghetti”.

 

Pesto is most often made with basil, but there are a lot of variations out there. I must admit to being a big fan of the original. I make it often when I have fresh basil. I also freeze basil with olive oil, so I can make it all year long. Pesto can be tossed with pasta, rice, potatoes or other veggies. I also like it on chicken.

 

Pesto Sauce

1 c. tightly packed basil leaves
1/4 c. olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic
Salt to taste
1/2 c. pine nuts, sunflower seeds, pecans or walnuts
1 c. fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Combine all ingredients, except the cheese, in a blender and mix until smooth. Stir in the cheese and toss over hot, cooked pasta or use as a sauce on meat and poultry. Sauce will keep a few days in the fridge and makes about 1 1/2 cups, enough for 1 lb. of cooked pasta.

Three Simple Ways to Save Basil

Fresh Basil

This time of year I am looking to preserve as many herbs as I can, to enjoy year round. Basil is one of my favorites. I grow, and use, a lot of it. I am doing a major harvest of basil today. Some will be frozen in olive oil, some dried, and some added to vinegar.

None of the preservation methods is difficult. Basil can be tricky to dry, though. Unlike a lot of herbs, basil does not air dry well. I have a dehydrator, but if you don’t have one, you can still dry your basil successfully. Believe it or not, you can dry basil, and other herbs, in a microwave. Directions follow.

So I am off to harvest my basil. One thing is sure- my house will smell really good today.

Freezing in Oil

To use basil in pesto sauce, dried just won’t do. You can easily freeze your basil in olive oil and have it ready whenever you want it. Just place clean basil leaves in a blender or food processor and add olive oil. It is important that you use olive oil because it freezes solid. While the machine is running pour in oil until basil is blended. I use very little oil for two reasons. It takes up less room in the freezer and I don’t need so much oil. I can add more oil when I use it, but this way if I am doing a big batch i don’t go through all my oil. Once the mixture is blended pour or spoon it into ice cube trays and freeze. Once frozen solid pop out the basil cubes and put in freezer bags and return to the freezer.You can also freeze chopped basil without the oil. I like it better in the oil, but I freeze other herbs by just chopping them up and freezing them.

Frozen Basil Cubes

Frozen Basil Cubes

Process basil and olive oil until smooth

Process basil and olive oil until smooth

Spoon mixture into ice cube trays and freeze

Spoon mixture into ice cube trays and freeze

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Microwave Drying

If you don’t have a dehydrator you can dry herbs in your microwave. It only takes a couple of minutes per batch. Just place a handful of fresh, clean basil leaves in a linen-type kitchen towel. Fold the towel over the herbs and place in the microwave. Be sure to put a raw potato in with the herbs in the oven. If you only put the herbs in, it is like running the oven empty and can damage the microwave. Just put the potato off to the side. If you do several batches you will have a baked potato. ? If you have a turntable, just cook on high for 2 minutes. Check and see if they are dry- you might need a little more time. I need about 2 1/2 minutes in my microwave. Better to put them in for 15 more seconds at a time than to over dry them. If you don’t have a turntable microwave on high for a minute. After the first minute turn the herbs 1/4 turn and cook 15 seconds, turn again and cook another 15 seconds. Repeat four times in all. You can dry other herbs in the microwave. Small leaved herbs like thyme are done even faster. Remove the herbs from the oven and allow them to cool. check if they are dry enough and return, wrapped to cook longer if needed. Store in containers in a cool place.

Microwave dried basil on the left and fresh basil on the right

Microwave dried basil on the left and fresh basil on the right

Place fresh basil on a towel and fold towel over the herbs

Place fresh basil on a towel and fold towel over the herbs

Place in microwave with a potato

Place in microwave with a potato

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All microwaves are different. Some will take longer and some even less time. Watch your herbs carefully. While I have never seen it happen I was told once that theoretically, they could catch on fire if left in too long. Urban legend perhaps, but just be careful.

 

 

Herb Vinegar

When I grow basil, I try to keep the blossoms pinched off. Better for leaf production. But by this time of year some are blooming. Rather than dumping the blossoms you can use them to flavor vinegar. Just snip off the blossoms and place them in a sterilized bottle or jar. Use several sprigs of basil flowers for every 2 cups of vinegar. Make sure the vinegar is at least 5% acidity. I like to use different vinegars for different herbs. I often use cider vinegar, red wine vinegar (for purple basil)  and white wine vinegar. Leaves can be used, too. Vinegar should be heated up to 190 degrees- or just below the boiling point.  Close up the jar and store in a cool place (50-70 degrees) for a couple of weeks. Before using  strain out the herbs and filter- I use coffee filters  or you could use cheese cloth. Store in a pretty bottle, if you have one. They can be kept for up to a year when stored in the fridge.

Basil blossoms in vinegar

Basil blossoms in vinegar

Snip off basil blossoms

Snip off basil blossoms

Place blossoms in a jar or bottle

Place blossoms in a jar or bottle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken and Herb Dumplings

Chicken with Herb Dumplings

There are foods I will always associate with my childhood. Chicken and dumplings is one of those dishes. I can remember watching my Mom spooning the dumpling batter over the simmering pot of chicken and vegetables. She’d cover the pot and we would wait. When she uncovered it, the dumplings had puffed up, and pretty much covered the whole dish. It was magical to me. The dumplings were so tender and light. I can’t make this dish, all these years later, without thinking of her.

I know there are other ways to make dumplings, and they are good. But for me, I still like the way my Mom made them the best.

I think that is true for a lot of us. There are dishes that are as much about the memory as the flavor.

So here is my Mom’s recipe for Chicken and Dumplings.

 

  Mom’s Chicken and Dumplings

1 T. oil
1 (3 lb.) broiler, cut into pieces
salt and pepper
flour for dredging
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
3-4 potatoes, cut into chunks
2-3 c. chicken stock
1 t. each marjoram and thyme
1 c. buttermilk baking mix* I make my own, recipe follows
1/3 c. milk
2 t. fresh parsley
2 t. snipped chives or green onions

1/2 t. red pepper flakes
Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper and dredge pieces in flour. Heat oil in large skillet and brown chicken pieces on all sides. Remove chicken pieces and sauté onion until tender. Add carrots, potatoes, broth and chicken to skillet and cook, covered, 20 minutes. Sprinkle herbs over the chicken. Combine baking mix with milk, parsley, chives and red pepper flakes and spoon batter in skillet in 8 mounds. Cover and cook over low heat 20 more minutes. Serves 4.

*Here are two versions of the biscuit mix.

Chef Pastry Mix/ Biscuit Mix

8 cups sifted, all-purpose flour

1 c. powdered milk

1 c. powdered buttermilk

¼ c. baking powder

1 T. salt

2 c. shortening, coconut oil or butter- if using butter store in the fridge- coconut oil version should be stored in fridge in warm weather

Sift dry ingredients together 3 times. Cut in fat to resemble cornmeal. Keep in an airtight container.  Store in a cool dry place and use within six months.

Whole Wheat Baking Mix

5 c. flour

3 c. whole wheat pastry flour

1 c. whole wheat flour

1/3 c. baking powder

1 c. powdered milk, not non-fat

2 t. salt

3 1/2 sticks butter

 

Mix dry ingredients together well, then cut in butter. Store in fridge for up to 3 months and can be frozen for up to a year. Makes about 12 cups.