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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!

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Late Summer Vegetable Soup with Peppery Croutons

Summer is the longest season in Central Texas. Lucky for us, that means we can still find some of summer’s vegetable bounty at our local farmers market in October.

This soup is a great way to make the most out of your late summer vegetables. Feel free to add in some diced tomatoes, leafy greens or your favorite protein.

Late Summer Vegetable Soup with Peppery Croutons  

8 Servings

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3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 shallots, thinly sliced

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 carrot, diced

3 teaspoons fresh thyme

2 teaspoons fresh oregano

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 cup fresh green beans, cut into bite size pieces

1 zucchini, cut into bite size pieces

1 yellow squash, cut into bite size pieces

1 ear of fresh corn, kernels removed

6 cups vegetable or chicken broth

pinch of cayenne pepper

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

 

Heat the oil in a 6 quart stockpot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the shallots, red bell pepper, garlic and carrot. Saute for 4 minutes. Next, add the herbs and season with salt. Finally, add in the green beans, zucchini, squash and corn. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes. Season again with salt and a pinch of cayenne. Finally, add in the broth. Bring to a simmer for 5 minutes and serve with peppery croutons and Parmesan cheese.

 

Croutons

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

3 cups 1/2-inch cubes crust-less sourdough bread (about 8 ounces)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt

1 teaspoon coarsely cracked black pepper

 

Heat the butter in pan over medium heat until bubbly. Add the bread and cook until browned on all sides, about 6 minutes. Remove and immediately sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve atop vegetable soup.

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Curried Butternut Squash Soup

We love the natural, creamy flavor and texture of this spectacular squash. With the addition of spices such as Madras Curry and Tandoori, the soup is light but bold in flavor. Try it and let us know what you think!

 

Creamy Curried Butternut Squash Soup

3 – 4 servings

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2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon Sandy Oaks Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 cup sweet onion, diced

3 cups roasted butternut squash *recipe follows

2 cups vegetable broth

1 teaspoon Tandoori Spice Blend

1 Tablespoon Madras Curry

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk

Sriracha, optional

 

Heat butter and oil in a 4 quart stockpot. Add the onion and cook for 3-4 min, stirring occasionally. Add the squash, broth, spices and season with salt. Cook for 5 minutes. Carefully pour the soup into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. (This can also be done with an immersion blender.) Pour the blended soup back into the stockpot. Add the coconut milk and reheat if necessary. Serve with optional Sriracha sauce.

 

*Roasted Butternut Squash:

1  2 -3 lb butternut squash

4 tablespoons olive oil or butter

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pre heat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Peel the squash. Carefully cut it in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Cut the squash into 1” cubes and scatter them out onto a large USA Half Sheet Baking Pan. Pour the olive oil over the squash and toss to coat. Season with the salt and pepper and toss once more. Bake for 45 minutes or until the squash just begins to caramelize and turn brown on the edges.