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Preserve fresh herbs

Freezing herbs such as basil can provide fresh flavor for months.

When I was talking with a friend recently about what to plant in our herb garden, she said, “Everyone I know who plants basil has more than they can use.”

Fresh herbs are expensive to buy, but cheap and easy to grow. And they are just as easy to store for future use. Unlike most preserving that takes canning equipment, herbs are simple to dry or freeze. Don’t let those expensive market herbs go bad: These techniques can be used with purchased fresh herbs as well as homegrown.

Discard any blemished leaves before preserving. Mint, rosemary, oregano and sage can be grouped in small bunches and hung upside down until dried. When dry, remove the leaves from the stems, crumble by hand and store in an airtight container.

Herbs with more delicate leaves, such as basil, parsley and cilantro, can be dried by placing the leaves on a paper towel or tea-towel-lined cookie sheet in a single layer until completely dry. I prefer to freeze herbs, as I find it helps to preserve the “fresh herb” flavor.

Freeze fresh herbs in olive oil, broth or tomato sauce, depending on how you plan to use the herbs later. Use a blender or food processor, or simply chop and add the herbs with whichever base you refer.

Basil makes fantastic “flavor cubes” with chicken or vegetable stock for soups; in olive oil for pesto or in tomato sauce for Italian dishes. The same can be done with oregano or with cilantro (substitute salsa for tomato sauce). Freeze in ice-cube trays and store in well-labeled airtight containers.

With soups and sauces, the flavor cubes don’t even need to be thawed before being adding to the pot. Leftover wine can also be frozen, with or without herbs, in cubes to be used later in recipes. With summer around the corner, mint leaves frozen in tea cubes with or without berries would make a tasty addition to iced tea.

Garlic cloves can be frozen in olive oil. Place peeled garlic cloves in an airtight freezer container, cover with olive oil and place in the freezer. Defrost a clove at a time. The garlic cloves will be more translucent after freezing but will taste just the same. When cloves are gone, the remaining garlic-infused olive oil can also be used in a recipe.

– Nikki Boertman, Scripps Howard News Service