After a summer of growing fresh herbs like basil, thyme, rosemary and mint, there's nothing more dispiriting than needing some for a recipe in the winter and being forced to buy a sad little (pricey!) container of herbs at the supermarket.
Over the last few years, we've learned to preserve some of our herbs before the frost gets them, using very simple methods that keep the herbs recipe-ready in our freezer.
Recently, our basil plants -- much like 70's-era Aerosmith, or, come to think of it, current-day Aerosmith -- were in a serious need of a trim. We took the shears to them, used our usual method and stowed them in the freezer.
Here's what we did:
Freezing Basil and Mint
This method we typically use on basil works just as well for mint. Our directions here assume that you are doing this at the end of the growing season, just before the first frost. This method also works mid-growing season, as we recently did for our basil.
Using a pair of kitchen shears, we remove the stems with leaves from the plant. (Only remove the stems if it's the end of the growing season. If you're doing this mid-growing season, just take the top six or so inches off the plant, leaving some stems with leaves.) Remove the leaves from the stems, and discard the stems. Wash and dry the leaves.
Fill the basin of a food processor with the herb leaves. Pulse until the leaves are finely chopped. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the leaves. Continue pulsing. (If needed, add more oil until the basil is well coated.) Using a spoon, fill ice cube trays with the oil and basil mixture. Freeze overnight. Remove the herb blocks from the ice cube trays and transfer them to a resealable plastic bag.
In the winter, we use these cubes to flavor soups and sauces that call for fresh basil.
Freezing Rosemary and Thyme
For other hardier herbs, like rosemary and thyme, we simply cut the sprigs from the plants, and then stow the sprigs (with leaves) in resealable plastic bags in the freezer. When we need them in the winter, we simply remove a sprig from the bag and, depending on the recipe, either toss it directly in the dish or first remove the leaves and toss them in the dish.
Freezing herbs is a great way to stretch the plants you've been growing all summer. Sadly, the frozen versions aren't quite as flavorful as fresh herbs plucked right from the garden. But they're still much more palatable than paying two bucks a pop for less than an ounce of herbs at the grocery store in the dead of winter.
Do you save fresh herbs for the winter? Have another method you use? Please share it!