It’s been a rainy spring and early summer, and now that the weather has really started to heat up, the herbs are already getting ahead of me. To get the best yields from herb plants, they need to be snipped regularly to promote fuller growth. Unfortunately, pruning times do not always coincide with both of us being home so I can cook everything. Composting what gets pruned off the bigger plants feels like wasting food, so I’m always looking for new ways to either use large quantities of herbs or preserve them.
Once everything is in the kitchen, it all gets a wash and whirl in the salad spinner before being laid out on towels to dry. The grates of the stove work well for air circulation, assuming you can trust everyone in the house not to fiddle with the knobs.
This tarragon was used first in a potato and artichoke salad recipe from Annie Somerville’s classic cookbook, Fields of Greens. I tweaked it a bit by using artichoke hearts out of the freezer instead of fresh from the farmers’ markets, but there it is. East coast. What are you going to do.
Her lemon and tarragon dressing was really quite nice, and leftovers went on another green salad. The rest of the herbs got made into tarragon oil via a recipe from Jacques Pépin’s book, Essential Pépin. I found a similar treatment at 100 cookbooks if you want to give it a try.
I have my doubts about the blanching step. Chefs seem to adore blanching all kinds of things, chucking quantities of perfectly innocent vegetables into cauldrons of boiling water willy nilly. I can’t help but think that a great deal of flavor is lost as it dissipates out into the water, the universal solvent, or escapes with the steam. There was a burst of fragrance when the tarragon hit the water as the volatile oils moved on the next herbal dimension, and the water colored a bit with other compounds that never made it into my tarragon oil. Next time I may try a pinch of citric acid or a dash of vinegar to preserve the color instead of heat. I also did not discard the solids because the high-powered blender liquified the whole mass quite nicely. The oil will get used anywhere I would use the olive oil on its own, but a tarragon flavor will amp things up. Green, potato, and grain salads come to mind right away, although I can’t help but wondering if it would emulsify into an amazing tarragon mayo.
I’m going to dry the next batch of tarragon cuttings because last winter a friend gave me a great tip for drying herbs. I had been using my old dehydrator set at the lowest temperature available, however, as with the boiling step in the herb oil, there was loss of fragrance and color because of the heat. She said one could just put the leaves in a paper bag, hang it up, and wait. I figured it would work well in the dry winter air, but I gave it a try this summer with sage leaves, mostly because I really had to cut the plant off the neighboring thyme it was smothering. The bag was folded shut, shaken to distribute everything evenly, and then placed on one of those hanging, flat sweater dryers in the basement. I checked a couple of weeks later, and everything had dried beautifully with both color and scent retained. Marvelous. Into a bottle the leaves went, dreaming of beurre noisette.
As is indicated by the title of this post, herbs will be a series, simply by virtue of their prolific natures. Until next time.