Back in May I planted some herbs in pots on my front steps. I’m happy to say the plants are flourishing and the pots overflowing. Now it’s time to put those tasty herbs to use. Basil, tarragon, flat leaf parsley, sage, rosemary, and two varieties of thyme are all ready for harvest.
Over the course of the summer I’ve clipped a few sprigs to toss into salads or add to recipes and marinades. Carrie Gilbertie of Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens in Westport told me that cutting encourages growth and happy plants. She was right! With a bumper crop, it’s time to make some recipes where the herbs are the centerpiece, not the accents, recipes that will keep me in herbs into the fall.
Pesto, herb butter, green goddess dressing, and herb mayonnaise are all easy to make from my front porch pots. All keep well and are ready for use when needed. I like to make extra to keep for a rainy day.
A few weeks ago, I had a hankering for both herb mayo and herb butter – one for grilling and one for garnishing. The process started with a fragrant herbal bouquet including parsley, French thyme, lemon thyme, sage, basil, and tarragon – a field blend of handfuls clipped from each.
First I washed the clippings in cool water and gave them a twirl in a salad spinner. The hardest part was stripping the flavorful leaves from the stems. It took a while, but I got to know the plants: parsley – three leaves on a stem, three clusters on a stalk; basil and sage with their sturdy central stems; thyme’s tiny leaves loosely attached to delicate woody branches; and thickly-leaved tarragon, the easiest of all to strip. A little effort for an aromatic payoff.
Herb butter and mayo recipes are divided into a couple camps: garlic or not and lemon or not. I opted for garlic in the mayo, since I plan to use it in cooking. I left it out of the butter so I could use it to finish a steak or fillet of fish without any raw garlic flavor. Lemon juice, on the other hand, enhances almost anything, so I included it in both.
I let the butter come to room temperature – soft enough to mix by hand, which avoids the use (and cleanup) of a food processor. Mayonnaise from the jar is fine, or make homemade if you are inspired. I chop the herbs all together and mix them in with lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Quantities are pretty loose here. I just work by eye and taste. Both mixtures should be well flecked with the herbs and have a bold fresh taste.
You can use the mayonnaise for a sandwich spread, vegetable dip, grilling marinade, or in potato salad. It livens up almost any recipe where you’d normally use plain mayo. Put a dab of herb butter on steak or fish right off the grill and let it melt in, use it to season steamed vegetables, or spread some on a baguette before toasting or grilling. The possibilities for either condiment are limitless. They’ll keep for a while, but generally get used up quickly.
It wouldn’t be summer for me without a batch of pesto. The versatile mixture of basil, pine nuts, olive oil, and Parmesan blends well into potato or macaroni salad,sautéed shrimp, pasta of almost any sort, and is a perfect partner with late-summer vine-ripened tomatoes. I follow Mario Batali’s leadership on how to make it. His recipe from Molto Italiano is an easy and reliable food processor method.
Green Goddess dressing is an old-time favorite that you don’t see much these days. It’s a mayonnaise-based recipe, but the herbs are puréed rather than chopped. Since a blender is needed for the purée, this is a good time to make the mayo from scratch. I used a parsley-based recipe, since I had plenty. Picking off the leaves seemed daunting, but in the length of two tracks of Django-style gypsy jazz the was job done. Right from the blender, it’s a good herb mayo. I whisked in a couple teaspoons of pesto and some sour cream to make a dip for vegetables and thinned it even further with a little milk to dress some tender greens.
Tarragon was the least successful of my herbs, just putting out a few stems. It probably needed a pot of its own. I had been hoping to marinate it with some white wine vinegar to make a classic tarragon vinegar that would last all winter long. Maybe next year.
The herbs are cut back pretty far now. If the fall is mild and sunny, they may continue to grow and put out more flavorful leaves for cutting. With my late summer harvest, though, there are enough delicious herb preparations in the fridge to last us for a while!