We’re letting our garden lay fallow this year.
But our herb patches?
Not so much. The cold, wet winter we endured gave our herbal perrenials a proverbial shot in the arm. Already, the chives, sage, oregano and mint are threatening to overtake their beds.
I hate to waste anything, so I’m scrambling with the largess. Here, 15 ideas for using my herbs’ leaves and blooms:
1. Oil & pesto: Whir olive oil, garlic or shallots, and a handful of herbs together for an oil you can douse on meats, vegetables, fruits or grilled bread. Basil is probably the first herb you think of, but try oil made with parsley, oregano and chives, too. For pestoes, add some pine nuts and grated Parmesan cheese.
2. Marinades: Tear handfuls of a variety of herbs (including their blossoms) and throw them in a plastic bag along with crushed garlic, salt, pepper, lemon zest and olive oil. Use to marinate chicken, seafood or beef.
3. Compound spreads: Mince herbs along with garlic and stir into softened butter or cream cheese.
4. Herbal breads: Add finely chopped thyme, basil, marjoram or oregano to biscuit, bread or pizza dough before baking.
5. Infused vinegar: Add the leaves or blossoms of your favorite herb to distilled or white wine vinegar and let the mixture steep for a few hours before straining and transferring to the refrigerator. Use the vinegar for marinades and salad dressings.
6. Ice cream & custards: Add leaves or blossoms to hot cream and let it steep for 10-15 minutes. Strain, then continue with your favorite custard or ice cream recipe. (Do the same with hot milk before adding to potatoes for mashing!)
7. Herbal iced tea: Add a handful of herbs to boiling water along with your favorite tea. Strain, then chill. Or — place tea bags, herbs and water in a clear pitcher and steep in the sun for four to five hours.
8. Scented sugar: Crush herbs into sugar and store in an airtight container. Peppermint is a natural, but consider other floral herbs such as basil and lavender.
9. Pretty ice cubes: Fill an ice cube tray with water, then place a leaf or blossom in each cube. Freeze. Serve savory-type herbs (sage, chives, sorrel) with vegetable juices; sweeter herbs (mint, basil) with fruit juices.
10. Unexpected garnishes: Plate your blossoms. Cilantro flowers make a dainty and beautiful topping for gently poached fish; oregano flowers look (and taste!) delicious atop pasta; lavender blossoms are stunning (and yummy) on top of chocolate cake.
11. Fruity pairings: Macerate strawberries with sugar and rosemary; peaches with honey and lavender; nectarines, cherries and any other type of stone fruit with vanilla and basil.
12. Salad leaves: Tear whole leaves from basil plants or whole flowers from nasturtiums and toss with your favorite tender lettuces.
13. Home decor: Clip blooming herbs and place in pretty vases around your home.
14. Drink enhancers: Muddle herbs with sugar, then pour in your favorite libation. Mint and rum or bourbon are two natural pairings, but try other combinations — lavender and champagne, perhaps; or rosemary and gin.
15. Gifts for neighbors: Put an assortment of herbs in a vase, wrap a raffia ribbon around and take it to the neighbors next time they invite you for dinner. They’ll appreciate the beauty and aroma, plus they can use the herbs when they cook!