if I could save thyme in a bottle – a few things to do with leftover herbs

As the outdoor growing season comes to a glorious, but certain end — at least for our humble outdoor garden — thoughts turn to how to keep the summer alive throughout the rest of the year. In our garden, we grew hot peppers that weren’t hot, green zebra tomatoes that never materialized, lettuce that provided just a couple of small salads, and collection of herbs that’s been picking up the slack. All summer and still we’ve been treated with loads of chives, basil, mint, thyme, parsley, dill, and tarragon. Here’re a few ways to make the most of these as the summer slips away. And consider these applications for any fresh herbs you’ve got, whether you grew them or not.

 

The season closes on the patio garden

The season closes on the patio garden

 

Drying Fresh Herbs

This is by far the easiest way to save and store any leftover herbs. It’s always the truest way to retain the true flavor of the herbs. I’ve tried and seen a number of techniques for drying fresh herbs — hanging bunches upside down, using a fan, a dehydrator, or even the microwave. By far the simplest and least messy is using egg cartons. I always seem to have a spare laying around for recycling. Just throw your herbs inside, close the top, and leave out for about a week. Once the leaves are dry, I remove the herbs from their stems over a flexible cutting board. Then put the dried leaves into a jar for storage.

 

Thyme drying in an egg carton

Thyme drying in an egg carton

 

Herb Salt

I got this idea from a unbelievably epic meal I had at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. One of the many seasonal and local courses that came out of the kitchen that night was a simple basket of bread with butter and two small ramekins of tomato and mushroom salts. They had dehydrated the tomatoes and mushrooms and pulverized them into powders which they mixed in with salt. The result was a flavorful addition to the breads, tasting unmistakably of mushroom and tomato. In an attempt to recreate this, I took some dried thyme (using the technique above) and combined with kosher salt, using one part herb, two parts salt, and ran this mixture through a mini-chopper. I also plan on using this same technique with mint and sugar.

 

If I could save thyme in a bottle

If I could save thyme salt in a bottle

 

Herbed Vinegar

You don’t have to dry your herbs for this one. And the variations are pretty endless. Given I’ve got an abundance of tarragon (an herb I’ve not usually had much luck cultivating) and an inclination to use tarragon in a variety of salads, I opted to make an tarragon-infused vinegar. Stick with a light vinegar in order to appreciate the herbal flavor you’ll infuse — rice, white, champagne vinegars are all good choices. Stronger flavored vinegars like balsamic and sherry will overpower any subtlety the herbs might impart. Dead simple. Heat your vinegar (enough to fill whatever vessel you’re going to store the vinegar in,) stuff the herbs in said vessel, and pour the warmed vinegar into the bottle. Let the liquid cool down before screwing on the lid. After a week you  can fish out the herbs, or you can just leave them in. Use your vinegar as a dressing by itself or as part of a vinaigrette. Or use to brine pickles. A tarragon vinegar would make a great basis for a cornichon recipe.

 

Tarragon vinegar

Tarragon vinegar

 

Herbed Oil

Just about the same procedure as for vinegar. I went with rosemary, chive, and basil oils. I plan on using the rosemary oil for dressing and seasoning meats for roasting or grilling, while I’ll use the chive and basil oils for seasoning vegetables. And any of these would be great on a pizza or bread dough or for popping popcorn.

 

Basil, Chive, and Rosemary oil in recycled jars

Basil, Chive, and Rosemary oil in recycled jars

 

Got any other grand ideas for that bountiful harvest of herbs? Let me know.

… with stewed romano beans

This is one of those seasonal summer recipes that I make every chance I get and wait all year long to make. Like most of my recipes, this one’s real simple, but allows for some experimentation, depending on what else is in the market.

 

Pint of romano beans

Pint of romano beans

 

If you’re not familiar with romano green beans, they’re related to the classic string bean. The pods aren’t cylindrical like a string bean, though. They are about 1/4″ to 1/2″ wide and flat. Given their size, they are a substantial vegetable. Whenever I can find these in the farmer’s market, I grab a whole bunch. You could use these like you would ordinary string beans (i.e. blanching, steaming, stir-frying.) I love them pickled with vinegar and pickling spice. But my absolute favorite preparation for these is stewed in tomatoes. And like so many things, I actually prefer these cold the next day.

It’s nearly impossible to screw this recipe up. Clean your beans, dice your tomatoes, and cook them together for longer than you think. You can’t really overcook these. You really want the beans to become soft and turn that army green that is supposed to be a bad sign. Here it’s the sign that your beans are done. I’ve provided several optional ingredients that should provide for all sorts of variations. However, all you really need are tomatoes and romano beans.

 

The last of the season's tomatoes and romano beans

The last of the season's tomatoes and romano beans

 

I’ve not tried this recipe with regular string beans. I imagine it would work, but the result would likely be slightly different. The green beans being thinner would probably fall apart a little bit, while the romano beans are hearty enough to withstand the long cooking process.

 

Beans and tomatoes stewing away

Beans and tomatoes stewing away

 

Stewed Romano Beans in Tomatoes

  • 1 pint of romano beans
  • 2-4 medium to large tomatoes, diced
  • 1 garlic clove (optional)
  • 1/2 small medium onion, diced (optional)
  • red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2-3 sprigs of thyme or basil leaves (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  1. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the olive oil. If you’re adding onion or garlic, saute each for a few minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes and turn the heat up to medium high, so the tomatoes are simmering heavily. Cook for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the romano beans (you can cut them in pieces or leave whole.) The beans should be mostly submerged in the tomatoes.
  4. Turn the heat down to medium-low or medium, so that the pot is still simmering, but not splattering tomatoes everywhere. Cook for at least another 15 minutes with the cover off. The beans will be done when they are soft and tender and a dark army green.

… with pickled peppers

Brightly colored cherry bomb peppers

Brightly colored cherry bomb peppers

OK, I like pickles, you get it. I like just about anything pickled (though a pickled egg makes me a little nervous, admittedly.) Along with a traditional dill pickle and spicy romano beans (a recipe I promise to cover next time these big fat romano beans come around,) pickled peppers are near the top of my list. I have early memories of eating pickled hot cherry and pepperoncini peppers straight from the jar as a kid. Still today, I’m a sucker for those ubiquitous jarred bright green pepperoncinis.

A couple of years ago I grew habaneros and jalapenos on my back patio and pickled a small jar of them in vinegar and salt. After months, I was afraid to open the jar in fear of dripping any of the lethal, nuclear-hot liquid and burning a hole in whatever it touched. Nonetheless, I always had a great addition to salsas and chilis hiding out in the back corner of my refrigerator (so as not to accidentally brush up against any of the other fridge inhabitants.)

Brightly colored cherry bomb peppers

Brightly colored cherry bomb peppers

The other day, Michael Ruhlman tweeted a link to an old blog post he wrote about using Michael Symon’s recipe for pickled chilis. When I came upon a generous pint of brightly colored cherry bombs at the Crystal City farmer’s market, I already knew exactly what I was going to do with these.

In our backyard patio garden, among the tomatoes and copious herbs, we’ve got two little pots that have been producing pepperoncini and jalapenos at a modest rate. There is one major issue with these peppers, however; they are not hot at all. Would make for a great parlor trick — bite into a bright red jalapeno and eat it whole, amaze your friends with your tolerance for the blazing heat, knowing all along it’s as mild as a bell pepper. With a handful of these still on the branches, I figured I’d throw these into the batch and hope the cherry bombs bring enough heat to spread around. While I was at it, I threw in some backyard thyme, too.

Handful of homegrown jalapenos and pepperoncini

Handful of homegrown jalapenos and pepperoncini

The recipe is real simple and took about 10-15 minutes from beginning to end. Put your peppers in a jar. Heat your brine. Pour brine over peppers. Michael Symon’s recipe called for specific herbs and spices, but I just used what I had on hand. I’d recommend the same. I’ve provided what I used, but feel free to improvise and vary the flavors. Try a different vinegar or herbs.

Jarred pickled peppers

Jarred pickled peppers

Pickled peppers

  • 32 oz. canning jar
  • generous pint of hot peppers
  • 1 1/2 c. water
  • 1 1/2 c. white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • a few sprigs of thyme
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • 10 black peppercorns
  1. Clean and place your peppers in a clean jar. (I cut little holes in the peppers so the brine could permeate and the peppers wouldn’t just float to the top.)
  2. Mix the water, vinegar, salt, sugar, herbs, garlic, and peppercorns in a small saucepan and simmer until sugar and salt are dissolved.
  3. Let the brine cool, then pour over the peppers in the jar, making sure to cover the peppers entirely and refrigerate.

Eat these right out of the jar and slice and use for garnish or anywhere you’d use a hot pepper.

Since I just put these up, it’ll be a few weeks until they hit their full potential, so I’m holding on trying them for at least a couple of weeks.