Beyond Basil Pesto

Monthly Feature JUNE 2014

 

Fresh Basil in the garden.
Fresh Basil in the garden.

Pesto made with fresh basil leaves is an easy and quick way to preserve the summery goodness of basil. Frozen, it keeps for months and has so many uses. In our household, fast food is cooking some pasta and tossing it with thawed basil pesto, leftover veggies- especially roasted or grilled- and adding a green salad. Voila! Supper!

If you like using pesto to mix with pasta, to top bruchetta, add to vinaigrette salad dressings or to flavor grilled or roasted vegetables, expand your choices by making pesto with other herbs, nuts, seeds and even leafy greens. Try different combinations such as basil with parsley, parsley with spinach, cilantro with parsley, lemon basil alone or mixed with standard basil or parsley… get the idea?

You can add different oils, nuts, seeds and cheese to alter the flavor to your liking.

You don’t absolutely need an electric food processor or blender to make pesto, but it really speeds up the process. Any of the following recipes can be made with a morter and pestle. And, a food processor with its wider, shallower bowl works more easily than a blender. Either will do, though. With a blender, you just have to stop and push the food back onto the blades more often than with a food processor. Just be sure the blades have stopped turning before you stick a scraper or spoon into the jar.

Don’t do what I did one time…. and stick a wooden spoon in the jar before the blades stopped turning. The spoon was jerked from my hand, bounced out of the jar, sprayed oil and basil everywhere and broke the spoon inside the jar. I threw the whole mess away and had to start over so I didn’t have splinters in the pesto. Plus I had to wipe up oily basil from the counter, floor and other surrounding surfaces. I reiterate…. wait until the blades have stopped turning before sticking the spoon in!!! 

Any of the tradtional dairy cheeses in the following recipes can be replaced with vegan varieties, just so long as the cheese is hard enough to be grated. Seeds such as sunflower or pumpkin can be substituted for the nuts. Roasting the seeds or nuts before use will bring out their flavor.

To roast raw seeds or nuts, spread them on a cookie sheet and place in a 350 deg. oven for 10 minutes, stirring and checking frequently to avoid over toasting. Or, place the seeds or nuts in a dry fying pan, I use cast iron, on a hot burner and stir around until you can smell aroma from the oils released from the the seeds or nuts. Do not over brown. Roasted nuts and seeds can be stored in an air-tight container or frozen.

You can make fresh pesto every time you need it, but it’s very easy to make a bigger batch when the basil or other herbs and greens are at their peak.

Pesto freezes wonderfully. I like to freeze it in ice cube trays overnight then transfer the cubes to a big plastic freezer bag. One cube is one serving of pesto to mix with pasta.

Be sure to mark the bag with the type of pesto inside. Parsley, basil, cilantro, spinach and arugula can all look alike after they’re frozen!

Some people leave the cheese out when freezing pesto and mix it in after the pesto is thawed. I’ve never done that. My pesto is ready to go when it’s thawed. It tastes great and the texture and color is perfect!Following are some recipes to get you started, along with info and ideas for uses of pesto, storing and freezing. Continue reading “Beyond Basil Pesto”

What Do I Do With Rose Hips?

February 2014

Ripe Rose Hips
Ripe Rose Hips

My friend Karen Ribble, Hair Braider extrordinaire and long time friend asked me about Rose Hips last month, so I decided to write this month’s newsletter to answer some of her questions and to refresh my own memory about how to harvest, use and store them. Since it’s February, the month of Romance due to Valentine’s Day, I thought this aspect of roses would be very appropriate. 

Roses have been used for flavoring, ceremonies and health for centuries. Evidence of the use of roses dates back to 2000 BCE in Crete where drawings of roses appear on the walls of the Palace of Knossos.

fresco at Palace of Knossos, Crete
You can see the roses in the upper right of the picture.

 

From that period forward to today, roses are evident in many cultures, including ancient Rome, Persia, India and China, to name just a few. Here is a short article on some of the ancient history of the Rose.

In America, fossil evidence of the rose has been dated to some 40 million years ago. It was then that a rose left its imprint on a slate deposit at Florissant, Colorado. Fossilized remains from 35 million years ago have also been found in Montana and Oregon. Here is further information on the Rose in Amercia from Texas A&M Horticulture.

Now that we have determined Roses are a fabulous flower, some originating in the United States, wtih myriad uses, let’s concentrate on Rose Hips, the seed pods of the Rose. Oh, you didn’t realize Roses produce seed? Of course they do. Just like any flower. It’s just that mostly Roses are grown from cuttings or, now, tissue culture, that we rarely think of growing Roses from seed.

Not all Rose Hips are created equal. If you notice the pods or hips on various rose types, some are very large while others are much smaller. The large hips are the ones prized for collecting for tea and other uses. Many people think the rose that produces the best hips is the common wild rose, also known as the Dog Rose.

rosa rugosa with hips
Photo courtesy of Maine Organic Farmer and Gardeners Association

 

 

Other roses produce hips, of course, some larger or smaller, some tastier than others. As always with collecting plant parts from the wild or your own garden, make sure they have not been sprayed or treated with an insecticide or pesticide.

Rose hips are traditionally collected in the fall, after they turn red. They’ll be sweeter after a frost, but it is not necessary to wait for a frost to collect them. Many people who grow roses never see the hips or seed pods because they dead head the flowers when they fade. To produce the hips, the flowers must be left on the plant to wither and die on their own so they produce the seed pod.

immature rose hips
Immature Rose Hips- you can see where the flower was on the end of the hip. Don’t they look like little green apples? Well, Roses are related to apples, so it’s no accident!

 

immature rose hips

Ripening Rose Hips

Photos courtesy of CharmaineZoe

Ripe Rose Hips. You can see the seeds inside.

ripe rose hips with seeds
Photo courtesy of Mother Earth Living

Now that we’ve established what Rose Hips are and where and when to collect them, what the heck do you do with them? Are all parts of the Hip edible? Well… not really. The seeds generally have lots of little hairs around them that are irritating to the mouth and can cause internal itching if quite a few are ingested.

Most people rid the seeds of the hairs by first drying the hips. Then, pulse them in a blender or food processor- or if you don’t have one, you’ll have to pound them a bit. The idea is to break up the dried hips into pieces about the size of coarse sea salt. Then, place the broken pieces of the hips in a strainer and shake it. You’ll see dust and the little hairs fall out. That’s it! There may be a few hairs left, but that won’t hurt you. Just keep shaking and stirring the dried hips in and around the strainer to get out as much of the dust and other parts that will fall through the strainer as possible. Then, you can store the hips in an air-tight container for later use.

Recipes using Rose Hips

Continue reading “What Do I Do With Rose Hips?”

Feeding Your Plants- The Low-Down on Fertilizer, Part 1

Originally Published March 2015

The Seasons
The Seasons

March has been unusually busy for me here at The Herb Cottage. The month has slipped by before I even knew it. It’s Spring now, with the Vernal Equinox having passed last week. 

I love this time of year here in Texas. I just want to be outdoors, pulling weeds and clearing beds and preparing my big containers for Spring vegetable planting. I thought I’d reprise this newsletter from 2 years ago. There’s a lot of information in it. Take your time reading it and try to put some of the advice into practice this year in your garden beds and containers.

The Vernal Equinox

has passed and we are now officially in Spring! It’s planting and growing season! Even if there’s snow on the ground where you live, if you’re a gardener, you’re preparing for the growing season. Seeds and transplants come to mind first, of course,

but how do you plan to keep your plants healthy and productive?

Whether you are a gardener with raised beds, a traditional row vegetable garden, flower and herb beds or lots of containers for your garden, fertility and nutrition are keys to a successful growing season.

First, some basics on fertilizers and what those numbers mean that are on the package.

Continue reading “Feeding Your Plants- The Low-Down on Fertilizer, Part 1”

Perfect Herbal Iced Tea

Prepare tea as for hot herbal tea (above) using either fresh or dried herbs, but more herbs per cup, up to 2 teaspoons fresh, 1 teaspoon dried. Steep no more than 10 minutes to prevent bitterness. Stir in sweetener while tea is hot. Chill and serve, or simply fill a glass with ice and pour hot tea over and enjoy. 

For sun tea, fill a jar with cold water, add slightly bruised herbs, stems and all, about 2 teaspoons per cup, set in the sun for up to 3 hours. Stir in sweetener, if desired, while tea is warm, chill and serve, or simply fill a glass with ice and pour tea over and enjoy.