Fresh Herbs: A Case for the “Living” Pantry + Asparagus & Herb Frittata

When you think of pantry basics, rice, pasta, eggs, spices, oil, vinegar and so on come to mind. How about herbs, fresh, leafy herbs? You might be thinking “Really, herbs?! On the contrary. They can be expensive and half of them rot before I use them!”

 

In order to make them part of your pantry you have to use them and use them without a recipe telling you to, because most recipes don’t or do so in such tiny quantities that the rest of the bunch is likely to come to a slimy demise in your vegetable bin.

 

Whether you buy a bunch of fresh herbs when you’re buying your milk, eggs, etc. or you plant some low-maintenance ones–like chives and parsley–in a pot by your front/back door, the return on investment can be big. When it comes to flavor, nutrients, and color, herbs are simply the best! Herbs like parsley and cilantro pack an anti-oxidant, mineral, and vitamin-rich punch. I started using lots of herbs in my cooking because they added so much flavor to simple dishes. And since they were growing in my tiny garden they were always just there and free and why I got so used to using them. So when I was out of lettuce for my son’s sandwich once I put parsley on it instead. (He still loves parsley and asks for it now.)

 

Mediterranean cuisines bring us herb-rich pestos and sauces and Persian and Middle Eastern foods are packed with mint, parsley, cilantro, dill and more. Beyond these classics, I like to take a cook-with-what-you-have approach to using them because I do think of them as part of my pantry.

  • Shower them on bowls of leftover rice, along with a fried egg and hot sauce
  • Blend 1 cup of parsley into a few tablespoons of tahini with some lemon juice, garlic, water and salt for a beautiful and delicious sauce for roasted vegetables, grilled meats, salads, grains or beans
  • Add them to quesadillas or burritos
  • Stir into mac and cheese or most any pasta dish
  • Layer on sandwiches instead of or in addition to lettuce
  • Get creative with the pesto method; use parsley and toasted pumpkin seeds or cilantro and walnuts

Spring is the time to plant these hardy herbs like parsley, chives, and mint. And when it’s warm enough basil, cilantro, dill etc.  You’ll have your “living” pantry always at the ready and for a fraction of the cost, as the plants will produce for many months.

 

So, use those herbs you buy or plant. Experiment, have fun, ask yourself “why not add a handful of dill to this salad or stir into those scrambled eggs or top that bowl of soup?”

 

Happy Friday!

 

P.S. I’ve just posted a new Asparagus & Herb Frittata recipe. It would make a lovely picnic dish this weekend, using that living pantry of yours:)!

 

 

Cherry Tomatoes Preserved in Vinegar

tomatoes in vinegar prepTomatoes of all shapes, sizes and colors are piling up in my kitchen. The cherry types are particularly prolific at the moment. In browsing my rather large cookbook selection I recently stumbled upon a book I’ve had for 10+ years but have never really looked at. Keeping Food Fresh: Old World Techniques and Recipes from the Gardeners and Farmers of Terre Vivante.

The book has a forward by famed farmer Eliot Coleman and covers preserving with oil, vinegar, alcohol, salt, sugar, by lactic fermentation and drying; in other words methods that don’t need much, if any, energy to prepare and none to store. It caught my attention this year for a variety of reasons: 1) I have a smaller freezer than I used to; 2) with all the earthquake perparedness talk I’m thinking more about preserves that don’t rely on electricity to stay edible; and 3) the crazy heat is inspiring more awareness around energy use a (and its link to our warming planet).

tomatoes in vinegar

I just put up these jars of cherry tomatoes in vinegar with tarragon, white pepper, coriander and cloves. I will report in six weeks, when they are supposed to be ready to try, though they will keep for many months.  A few weeks ago I started a half-gallon jar of lactic-fermented pickling cucumbers upon which I’ll report as well.

The recipes I’ve perused, all contributed by farmers and cooks in France and Belgium, are easy to follow but a bit vague. If you’re comfortable in the kitchen and don’t mind thinking a long and using your own judgement occasionally I think you’ll find it useful. I’m eager to try many more recipes, including lacto-fermented tomato sauce, long-cooked jams, tomatoes preserved in salt and oil, etc.

Cherry Tomatoes in Vinegar
–adapted from Keeping Food Fresh

Yields about 1 1/2 quarts (I used one quart and one pint jar)

2 lbs cherry tomatoes, stems on if possible, gently washed and dried
10 tarragon leaves
10 white peppercorns
10 coriander seeds
6 cloves
3 generous pinches of sea salt
Just under a quart of vinegar (I used a combination of rice, white and cider since I didn’t have enough of any one of them)
1 sterilized quart jar and pint jar (or three pint jars, etc.)

Prick each tomato 2-3 times with a thin sewing needle. Gently pack the tomatoes in the jars adding the tarragon and spices here and there. Finish with a bit of salt and pour vinegar over to cover. Screw on lids and store in a cool, dark place. After six weeks they will be ready to eat. They are supposedly excellent with hot or cold poached fish, grain dishes and rich terrines.

Summer (Cherries, Green Couscous, Garlic Scapes)

Dessert in a tree.

My four-year-old son Ellis and I spent a night at my mother’s place last week.  She lives in the middle of nowhere and has neighbors with cherry trees and fruit picking ladders. Ellis climbed right to the top of this rather tall ladder and ate his fill of Royal Ann cherries, gleefully spitting the pits down onto our heads. Actually he mostly missed our heads but cackled with each dropping pit. The setting sun and a sticky, happy kid . . .. Summer, finally here (though absent again today) is so wonderful. And if you have lots of cherries and need a new idea for them, try this wonderful recipe by David Lebovitz for Cherries in Red Wine Syrup.

My cooking has been somewhat sporadic and a bit frenetic of late. We’ve been out-of-town, had visitors, had lots of picnics and barbeques, even a meal or two out. I want to be outside all the time and am spending more time processing berries than making dinner. This means we’ve had a lot of frittatas, salads and artichokes for dinner lately or anything else I can throw together in minutes so I can get back outside.

Green Couscous from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

I have made two dishes worth noting in the last few days. The first comes from one of my favorite cookbooks Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi that you’ve  heard me rave about here before. It’s called Green Couscous and is a herb-heavy, full flavored dish. If you, or you in combination with your neighbors grow mint, cilantro, tarragon, dill, parsley, and arugula, you might be able to make this salad on a moments notice. The recipe calls for toasted pistachios but I didn’t have any and substituted toasted almonds which worked beautifully. This recipe is not super quick. It has a few more steps than most of my dishes but it’s well worth it.

I know our spring here in the Pacific Northwest was cooler and wetter than others so if you no longer have garlic scapes (tops, whistles) in your neck of the woods just file this away for next year. Garlic scapes are the long, elegant stalks that grow up out of a garlic plant. So while the head of garlic is finishing up its growth underground the plant gives us a fragrant, sweet, tender shoot to work with as well. These scapes make a wonderful pesto so if you have some in your garden or see a bunch at the farmers market or in your CSA box, this is one thing to do with it.

Garlic Scape Pesto. Next to the bowl of pesto you see the very tops of the garlic scapes which hold the flower of the plant. You want to use the scape right up to this part but I typically don't include the immature flower in the pesto but come to think of it I'm not sure why. . . .

Garlic Scape Pesto

1 bunch (about 7-8) garlic scapes

generous handful of toasted (or raw) walnuts

1-2 ounces parmesan or Asiago stella

3/4 cup (or more) basil leaves

1/3 cups of good-tasting extra virgin olive oil

salt, pepper

Roughly chop the garlic scapes, with our without the very top, flower part (See note in caption above). Process the nuts and cheese in a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve on toasted bread, with pasta, potatoes, eggs dishes other grains. . . .

Happy Cooking and Eating!

P.S. Two spots left in my August Eat Better Series. Save money, eat well, fewer trips to the store and more fun in the kitchen . . .