Drying Garden Herbs

The time has come, I hate to admit, to ready my garden for the winter.  I took one of the last glorious fall days, warm and sunny, to dig out what was left of my herbs.  But, in true Cheftovers form, I had to do something with the stragglers.  And since I don’t have a greenhouse to preserve the plants, I decided to try drying them in the microwave.  It was remarkably easy and not as tedious as I thought.  And when jars of dried herbs can run $5-10 each…why not give it a go?

garden herbs

After I transplanted all that I could into smaller pots close to the house, I trimmed up a bunch of basil, rosemary, and parsley.  I took a long hard looks at the volume of parsley I had (looked like a bushel), and the thousands of little needles on the rosemary bush, and decided basil would be the only one I’d be experimenting with for now.

garden herbs leaves

I plucked the individual basil leaves from the stems and placed them in a single layer on a paper towel.  I also placed another layer of paper towel on top.  Then it was time to fire up the microwave.  Since mine doesn’t have temp control (low/medium/high), I only heated it for a short amount of time initially.  And I didn’t want to burn them or start a fire with “dry” leaves on a paper towel.  But I was banking on the fact that these freshly snipped leaves still had enough moisture in them.

drying garden herbs

After thirty seconds, I examined the leaves and was pleased that it was working!  Not enough time yet…

So I put it back in for another 20 seconds, then another 15.  Each batch varied in terms of size and number of leaves, but in the end each round I dried needed about 1:00-1:15 in the microwave.

dried garden herbs

I transferred the dried leave to a Ziploc bag and crushed them by hand.  In the end I generated about 1 cup of dried basil leaves.  As you probably know, that will get me pretty far (two full batches of Picciano family pasta sauce, in fact!)  And all for free.  Not bad!

jarred herbs

As for the rosemary and the parsley I have…I opted for the tried and true “hang and dry” method.  Besides, I think they look kinda cool in my kitchen.

hanging rosemary

I will probably need to give those a week or more to dry out completely.  Then I’ll do the same with those (remove them from the stems and crush the dried leaves).

What are you doing to ready your garden for winter?  I’m always looking for tips from those with a green thumb!

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Sisters Pasta Night: Homemade Mushroom Ravioli with Brown Butter and Sage

In colleges, my sister studied abroad in Siena, Italy.  She could barely put two sentences of Italian together at the end of her experience…she mostly studied wine and Italian men.  But she came home with a killer hand-made pasta recipe.  And while she might call me on a weekly basis for meal suggestions, and help with recipe substitutions, she is still the authority in the family on home-made pasta dough.  It’s something we do together whenever she is in town. 

For this round I was ready to make a ton of pasta, and freeze it.  And I wanted to use the bountiful herb garden I was “passively cultivating.”  It’s a real jungle back there because I can’t seem to find the time to maintain it.

herb-garden

I sifted through the hip-high cilantro and lettuce plants, to snip bunches of fresh parsley, chives, sage, and basil.

garden-herbs

I knew we’d need marinara sauce for all this fresh pasta too, so I put a pot of that on as well.  Working loosely off a recipe I learned at a class at The Loretta Paganini School of Cooking, I used garlic and onion, grated celery and carrot, whole peeled tomatoes, a pinch of crushed red pepper, salt and pepper, and lots of the fresh parsley and basil.

marinara-sauce

While that simmered, we got to work on the first dough.  The ingredients are few…it’s the technique that’s still tough for me.

3 c. flour, unbleached

3 large eggs

1/4 c. dry white wine

1 tsp. salt

Water or extra flour, if needed

Lexi-making-pasta

You start by creating a “mound” with your flour, and make a deep well.  Meanwhile crack the eggs in a bowl and break the yolks up with a fork, then add the wine and salt to the eggs.  Carefully pour the egg mixture into the well.  Then, using a fork, slowly bring the flour in to the egg mixture.  When the flour is totally absorbed, begin kneading by hand for 20 min…no shortcuts!  Add water if it seems dry, or sprinkle more flour if it’s too wet.  Gather it in a ball and place it in a mixing bowl, covered with plastic wrap, to rest for 30 min…no shortcuts there either.

The first batch was dinner that night: a classic fettuccine with marinara.  We made a second batch of dough for me to make ravioli with.  I whipped up the filling while Lexi, and my eager daughters, kneaded.

Julia-making-pasta     Natalie-making-pasta

I wanted to use all that beautiful sage.  So I sautéed some mushrooms in olive oil, with garlic and shallots.  Then I added chopped sage, and a drizzle of truffle oil.  I mixed that with some ricotta, salt and pepper, and more truffle oil and let it cool while we rolled the dough.

Natalie-rolling-dough

First we cut the fettuccine, as we’ve done every time before.  You start on the widest setting, cranking that pasta machine to gradually reduce the width until the dough is the desired thickness, then cut it. (angel hair, linguine, fettuccine, etc.)  We sprinkled a tablecloth with flour and let it dry while we moved on to the delicate ravioli.

homemade-pasta

For those, we rolled the dough out, same as before.  Then we laid the sheets of pasta over my grandmother’s old ravioli plates.  I put a generous teaspoon of the filling in each pouch.

ravioli filling

Then we placed a second sheet on top, and used a rolling-pin (and the back of a spoon) to “stamp” or cut them.  We tore off the excess around the edges then carefully popped out each delicate little ravioli.

Ravioli-trays

To be honest, these usually don’t turn out so well for me…but these looked beautiful!!

Last round of dough was experimental.  I chopped up a ton of fresh chives and we incorporated that into the dough during the kneading process.  Toss this pasta with a little butter and you’ve got something pretty spectacular.

pasta-with-chives

There was salted water boiling on the stove…time to taste the fruits of our labor!  First course was the fettuccine and marinara.  It didn’t disappoint.  While we poured a second (or fourth?) glass of wine, I browned some butter and added more chopped sage, plus seasoning.  When the ravioli were cooked through in the water, I drained them and added them to the saute pan to brown them up.  Sprinkle some grated cheese on top. Perfection.

Julia-in-an-apron

I had a full heart and a full belly at the end of the evening.  It was so much fun for my girls to share in a special sisters pasta night!  I hope they carry on the tradition.

Herbal Harvest

It’s about that time when those of us in cooler climates have to come to terms with the fact that winter is coming.  Most of the leaves are off the trees and the first snow of the year will fall any day.  Ugh.  Before frost destroys it, it’s time to harvest what’s left of my humble garden.

I have a pair of four by four garden boxes in our back yard.  Not because I love to garden, or cultivate plants, but because I love to cook with fresh ingredients.  Each year I mix it up based on what did well the year before.  This year I dabbled in tomatoes for the first time, which were a disappointment due to our cool summer.  Same goes for the basil, an herb I could cook with every night.  My parsley, oregano and rosemary, however, blossomed this year.  Even into late fall, they’re still thriving.  But not for long.

After cutting all the herbs I could carry and spreading them out on my counter, I rolled up my sleeves and brainstormed about the best ways to maximize this aromatic harvest.

herbal harvest2

My go-to with excess herbs is some variety of pesto.  So I began by making a version of the Italian staple sauce.  As mentioned in a previous post, I usually make pesto with almonds rather than pine nuts.  They’re far cheaper, and I like the idea of putting a “super food” into a dish.  Pull out the food processor and combine roughly ¾ c. almonds with a couple handfuls of fresh parsley, a clove of garlic, ½ c. grated Parmesan, and some fresh squeezed lemon juice.  Season it with salt and pepper and fire it up.  The end game is a bright and fresh sauce that’s great on seafood like shrimp, salmon or any white fish.  Also try adding a little (like a quarter cup) cream cheese or goat cheese and toss it with linguine and a touch of pasta water.   Supplement with a protein like chicken or shrimp.   To. Die. For.

The food processor got me thinking about another idea that could set me up for an easy work day dinner: Herbed butter.  I softened some unsalted butter and blended it with a couple small cloves of garlic and parsley.  My husband loves spaghetti al olio.  So this will make it incredibly quick.  Simply cook some long pasta, and toss it with this garlic butter w/parsley, season, and add olive oil.  Top generously with grated cheese.

Then I took another stick of sliced, unsalted butter and added parsley, rosemary and oregano and garlic to make another version of herbed butter. I seasoned this with a touch of salt and pepper, then rolled it up in plastic wrap and foil and threw it in the freezer.  I plan to slice it off to use as needed on things like chicken and steak.  This will be versatile and very clutch when I’ve come home late from work and want to put together something great.

Fresh are too expensive to waste.  How have you made good use of excess?