(917) 209-4801 [email protected]
So Long. Farewell. Auf Wiedersehen. Goodbye.

So Long. Farewell. Auf Wiedersehen. Goodbye.

Oh for crying out loud. I’m a grown-ass woman. You would think I could get over the end of the farmer’s market and the demise of my herb bed without this drama. But…….have you met me?

Deep breath in. Deep breath out. In. Out. Focus! You know what to do.  Pretty much any time between now and Thanksgiving (a bit earlier if you are in the northern reaches and will have extended hard freezes before), you can cut back all your perennial herbs and hang them upside down to dry. I tend to focus on Thanksgiving because it’s one last chance to harvest the herbs you will need for stuffing et al. Besides, cutting back your herb beds and throwing down some mulch has the added benefit of getting them ready for spring – which really can’t be that far away when you think of it.

The main reasons to hang and to hang upside down are to stiffen the stems and provide enough airflow to keep from molding. Once dry, you can pick them off the stems, crumble and keep in an airtight tin. If you have hangups about the whole hanging scene, you can also pack the stemless leaves between layers of a good quality coarse salt and make, for example, your own rosemary salt. A little herb goes a long way. And then of course you could always gently heat olive oil and infuse it with some sprigs of herb. Discard the herbs in a few days or a week when you get the desired flavor.

Drying Herbs on a rack: rosemary, sage, thyme

But what to do with the annual herbs? Basil, Parsley, Arugula, Cilantro?? These are definitely a goner after the first frost. I favor pastes for these which I keep in the freezer for a quick addition to other dishes, a theme you may be picking up on from You’ll Thank Me in the Winter Oven-Dried Tomatoes.   Pureed with some oil and whatever else you want, these pastes make great flavor boosts for those bleak winter months.  Some people like to leave the cheese (Romano or Parmesan, or other hard grating cheese) out, if freezing the pesto. I think if there is enough oil to coat the cheese, there is no reason why it can’t be incorporated up front. Play around with the combos and see what tastes good to you.   When making a basil pesto, I often add some spinach or arugula or even parsley – all depends how much basil taste I want to show up later. And if the basil has already started to go to seed, it can be a bit bitter, so adding some other herbs can round out the flavor and boost the color.

Fresh Basil, close up and at the market

Basil Pesto is something that really does have to be made to taste. (I’m not making this up because I’m too lazy to give you a proper recipe). Am I sensing a little anxiety that there will be no real recipe again?? Come one folks, you can do it! The key components for traditional pesto are basil, garlic, olive oil/EVOO, pine nuts and cheese, generally Parmesan. I’m probably going out on a limb here, but I don’t get pine nuts, pretty much at all but definitely in this dish. They are super expensive, very delicate both in flavor and handling (sold rancid way too often), and provide no texture contrast to the paste. But what DO you like, you ask? Good question! Many use walnuts, but I love toasted pistachios. You can almost always find them shelled at a health food store. I spread them on a sheet pan and roast all naked (uh……….the pistachios, not me) for about 10 minutes at 400°F. You can definitely smell them getting to the right point. After cooling completely, I pulse in a food processor, keeping them a bit chunky. From there, I set them aside and stir in at the end by hand.

Lemons and Pistachios

I also like to add lemon zest – which works best if you are freezing. If you are trying to keep it fresh in the fridge for more than a few days, the acid will start to kill the green in the basil. Something about the roasted nuts and fresh lemon zest though that really elevate the flavor profile.

So here you go – make it your way.

Pistachio lemon Pesto close up

Pistachio Lemon Pesto

4 cloves (or more if you love it) garlic, pulsed in the food processor til minced

4 packed cups fresh basil (mixed with spinach, arugula, parsley or whatever you want/have), pulsed til coarsely chopped

¾ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (you got it – your choice), pulsed a couple times

About 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, drizzled in while motor is running. Don’t let it get too runny if you are planning to freeze without an ice cube tray, but you do want the ingredients well coated.

Then, transfer to a bowl, and stir in:

¾ cup roasted, chopped pistachios

Zest of one lemon

Taste, and adjust seasonings (salt and pepper).

Press plastic wrap onto the surface of the pesto and refrigerate until it firms up a bit. Some like to use ice cube trays to freeze this. (I don’t have any). I usually just spoon out a 2 Tablespoon dollop onto a sheet pan, then once frozen place the pesto blobs into a Ziplock. You could use an ice cream scoop I’m guessing if you want to get fancy.   If it seems a bit thin for scooping, you can thicken with a bit more cheese. More cheese is always good, I’m pretty sure.

There are so many ways to use this – add to a soup or stew, jazz up your mashed potatoes, spread on pizza dough before adding the toppings, slather it on bruschetta or toss into a pasta dish. What would you do if you had a freezer-full (again, you’ll thank me) come January? Sharing is caring, so let us know.

Pistachio Pesto Mashed Potatoes with kale salad and drumstick

 Winner winner chicken dinner – with pistachio lemon pesto mashed potatoes.

Hey, we want to hear from you! Don’t forget to Comment below, Share & Subscribe to our blog.

To-Mate-Oh! To-Mott-Oh!!

To-Mate-Oh! To-Mott-Oh!!

If you think I am in a bit of a panic over the eminent disappearance of vine-ripened ANYthing, you are correct, sir! But after years of veg-therapy, I have a few coping techniques to preserve the last taste of summer and keep me from jonesing til the sun sits high in the sky again. Of course, canning is always an option; but that is a real commitment, and I personally like the pop of flavor that oven-dried tomatoes deliver. I’m not a big fan of freezing either. (They say the freezer is the last stop before the trash, so it’s not an ideal way in which to honor a loved one.) Some produce, like tomatoes, have too much water in them for quality freezing results. Once frozen, the water in tomatoes expands and destroys the structure. Unless you are aiming for a puree or sauce, OR adding to a soup or stew, that kind of behavior is considered, in many circles, a criminal offense.

Oven-dried tomatoes, while ultimately stored in the freezer, have already dehydrated sufficient water to make them super freezer-worthy. Because they don’t freeze as a solid block, it’s easy to grab a few and toss into a salad, a pasta, a frittata, or pop into a Panini or quesadilla. I also like the texture – not as leathery as commercially-produced sundried tomatoes, and they are not immersed in low-quality oil. These tomatoes will be super-charged with flavor and soft with a bit of chewiness – luscious!

Thanks to the surge in varieties of heirloom tomatoes, there are many options for choosing colors and shapes and sizes and flavors. I usually try to buy an assortment of colors and shapes, but keep the sizes about the same. If I am working with some larger tomatoes, I will keep them in a separate section since their cooking time will be longer.   Choose from ripe yet firm cherry, pear, and grape – black pearl, green envy, Italian ice, and zebra. There is a virtual rainbow of possibilities. And while it takes a lot to fill even a quart Ziploc, a little bit from that Zip will go a very long way.

Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes in an orange bowl


You’ll Thank Me in the Winter Oven-Dried Tomatoes

Plan to do this when you are home for the afternoon, cleaning out the closet or putting your herbs to bed for the winter (more on that next time).  While this is a very fast prep and low ongoing involvement process, it is impossible to guess how long the whole shebang will take.  If you have a convection oven, you can speed up the process a bit. And if you have a dehydrator, your watchful eye is less necessary.   I usually figure 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours if I have an oven-full.

Preheat the oven to 225°F.

I like to line my sheet pans with foil to prevent pan-pitting as the tomato acid is released. (And let’s be real, it makes clean-up a snap).   Halve the tomatoes and arrange in rows by variety/size on the pan, cut side up.

halved yellow, brown betty and red cherry tomatoes

Sprinkle the tomatoes with a coarse sea or kosher salt.

My oven is wide enough for a full sheet pan and I can put in three at a time.  However the air flow is significantly reduced, and so I have to keep an eye and rotate the pans, top to bottom and front to back.  The better the airflow, the faster they will dehydrate.

Hand adding salt to halved red and yellow cherry tomatoes

Nothing will happen for an hour or hour and a half.  But keep an eye on them after that – every 20 minutes or so.  If you have used a wide variety of tomatoes, they will likely finish at slightly different rates.

Once they dry to your desired doneness, remove and cool completely, before bagging in a Ziploc.  Press out excess air and keep in the very front of your freezer for easy access.

Don’t forget about that salt when you go to use them later – you may not need additional salt in your recipe.

Bottom Line It, will ya?

There are no proportions or timing here.  But, if you insist: 6 quarts of cherry tomatoes, will fill 3 full sheet pans when halved and need about 3 hours in a 225°F oven, resulting in about 1 quart of You’ll Thank Me in the Winter Oven-Dried Tomatoes for your freezer.

wooden board with dried red and yellow cherry tomatoes spilling on wooden counter

Hey, we want to hear from you! Don’t forget to Comment below, Share & Subscribe to our blog.