Bringing in Herbs for the Winter

Herbs are one of the key ingredients in summer cooking that make the food really stand out, but we don't have to stop once winter comes.  The key, in my mind, to things tasting good is to layer in flavors using various simple techniques.  Herbs are the fastest and simplest of those methods, other than say, adding salt.

We have had such a warm November that I am still clipping herbs right out of the garden and the herbs in pots are still doing well on the back porch.  I have also started to bring in herbs from the garden to dry them.  The simplest method is to cut whole branches of  the woody herbs such as thyme, sage, winter savory, and rosemary and tie them into bundles and hang them in a dark, well ventilated place.  I usually leave them hanging for a month or so, and then place all the bundles into a large basket lined with a clean dishcloth.  I use a large amount of herbs all winter, by the handful, in simmering stews, soups, under and over roasted meats, inside the cavity of roasted poultry, etc.  I just can't think of a simpler and more effective way to add depth to whatever is cooking.

The leafier herbs, such as basil, cilantro, parsley and chives can be frozen for year round use.  This is best done with the aid of a food processor.  I take handfuls of washed herbs (stems removed) and pulse them in the bowl of the processor until they are finely chopped. I then drizzle in a little olive oil while the machine runs. Once it all looks like a nice green mush, I scoop it all into freezer bags and shape it into a thin, flat layer before placing the bags (lying down) into the freezer.  This allows the herb puree to freeze in a thin sheet that can be broken into smaller pieces when you are ready to use it. This frozen herb puree is a great addition to soups, stews, sauces, roasted or steamed veggies, and salad dressings.  I simply toss in a chunk of the herb popsicle at the end of the cooking time of whatever I am making so that the fresh flavor really comes through.

You can also bring herbs inside in pots for the winter and place them near a sunny window.  I keep a few herbs in pots all summer just for this purpose, but you can dig up whole plants out of the garden and repot them with some good potting soil. These are nice herbs to use as garnish, or chopped into a fresh salad.  These are not the herbs I use by the handful, but when I want just a teaspoon of fresh, chopped herbs to add a final punch to a dish.  Some of the herbs that work well for bringing indoors are thyme, parsley, rosemary, sage, oregano and basil.  The sunnier the window, the better luck you will have. You can also use some grow lights on a timer for even better results.  It's best to water these indoor herbs about once a week, but since they are in a semi dormant stage, they don't need to stay as moist as they would in the summer. The herbs won't always look great, but they will always smell good and have enough flavor boosting powers to earn their keep.