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Fresh or Dried? That is the question

What are you doing with your fresh herbs?

It’s September, and if you live in Central Texas, this is the time of year when some of those fresh herbs start to dwindle. What to do? While many chefs don’t advocate using dried herbs, I’ve found that using the herbs from my garden produces much more fragrant and flavorful dried herbs that what you can purchase from the store. Plus there is the satisfaction of having something from your garden.

You can create a better dried basil that can get you through a few cold months without resorting to store-bought dried basil. Here’s how:

Pick over fresh basil. Wash it and spin it dry in a salad spinner and place it on a foil-lined baking sheet. Let it air dry for a little longer then place it in the oven. I think you’ll be pleased with the outcome. Home-dried herbs will last a few months in an airtight container and will always be of superior flavor and quality to store-bought. Below is my favorite minestrone soup (Okay, not a purists minestrone. It has Italian meatballs in it.)

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone Soup

Serves 4 Total time 35 minutes

12 oz Italian sausage formed into 1” balls

2 c beef stock or broth

1 c chicken stock or broth

½ c chopped onion

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 T olive oil

1 C water

1 14 oz can crushed tomato

1 4 oz can tomato sauce

2 cups frozen vegetables, such as corn, green bean, red bell pepper, and carrot

1 can Great Northern beans

1 t dried basil

1 t dried oregano

1 t dried thyme

2 c cheese tortellini

freshly chopped basil and parmesan cheese for garnish

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in an 6 or 8 quart stockpot over medium heat. Add sausage and cook until browned on all sides. Remove sausage from pan and add 1 tablespoon olive oil, onion and garlic; cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, stocks, Italian seasoning, and water. Heat to a simmer and add frozen vegetables and tortellini. Cook until vegetables are heated through, about 15 minutes. Serve with crusty bread, fresh basil and Parmesan cheese.

Try pairing this with a nice Sangiovese wine and some crusty French bread. Delicious!

I would love suggestions from you on home-drying other herbs as well! Please see the upcoming article in the October 2018 issue of  Waco Today for suggestions on using your fresh basil in marinara and pesto.

Happy Cooking!