I’ve managed to nurse a few herb plants through most of the winter, but this recent cold front claimed all but the rosemary. Fortunately, last fall I harvested every savory leaf I could get my hands on and freeze dried batches of herbs for use this winter. My Italian basil bush and the lemon verbena were rock stars last year, and my pesto-making rampage paid off this weekend when our dinner party for six somehow turned into a pasta party for 14. There were people eating tortollonia with pesto in every room of the house Saturday night.
I think everyone has more than a little cabin fever right now, and the excuse to eat in someone else’s kitchen was too much to resist. We actually had three kinds of pesto going and everyone enjoyed sampling. Of course, basil pesto is a classic and lemon verbena is a favorite. For us, the new kid on the block is purslane pesto. A friend got a bunch of this unusual plant in a farm box late in the summer and we decided to experiment with it. Delicious.
Now that we’ve burned through our stash, it’s time to think about planting herbs and making more next fall. Here are some guidelines for how to use freeze dried herbs and a recipe for the lemon verbena pesto we had Saturday night:
Converting Fresh Herb Amounts
The flavors of dried herbs will be more concentrated. A good guideline is to start with a third the amount of dried herbs when the recipe calls for fresh herbs. Give your dish a taste and see if it needs more. Strength of flavor can actually vary wildly by plant anyway – so it’s a good rule whether you’re using fresh or freeze-dried.
Lemon Verbena Pesto
If you don’t have a lemon verbena bush, get one as soon as it’s safe to start planting in your area. There are endless uses for the tangy leaves of this plant – and it’s pretty.
1 cup fresh lemon verbena leaves (substitute fresh lemon balm leaves)
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts or English walnuts
1/2 cup olive oil
Fine kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Now listen, this stuff is excellent on pasta but we also use it on top of grilled vegetables. It’s one of those dishes where the table goes quiet because everyone is busy eating!
About purslane: It looks like a mini jade plant and is probably growing in your yard as a weed. Purslane is so hardy that plants have been known to grow for more than 40 years despite attempts to eradicate them. This is a good plant to know if you find yourself in an emergency because they’re also extremely nutritious. It tastes like watercress, which makes a fantastic pesto, which makes an especially delicious sandwich spread.