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Around our home, we’re always looking for ways to rekindle those summer moments in our meals when it’s cold and gray outside. That’s why I freeze herbs and even edible flowers to provide an easy and nutritious way to keep these flavorful ingredients around all year long. Use a bit of imagination and you’ll find lots of fun ways to freeze herbs and edible flowers from your garden. Always use clean, unsprayed herbs and flowers, which are picked early in the day for freshness, and know what your eating is edible. Then, go wild! Here are five fun examples to get you started.
1. Herb Cubes: Fresh herbs like rosemary, sage, and basil can be chopped, washed, dried and frozen in ice cube trays. This offers quick access to these delicious and healthy flavors, when the garden looks dead outside. Experiment with freezing herbs in a bit of water, vegetable stock or olive oil. For instance:
• Freeze in water for basic use in cooking. Thaw as needed. Here are a few peppermint leaves frozen in water for floating in drinks, when summer is still months away.
• Freeze in vegetable stock for use in soups, casseroles and mashed potatoes. Here are cubes packed ½ with thyme leaves and ½ with organic vegetable stock. Sage, tarragon and marjoram would work well this way too.
• Mix chopped herbs with olive oil. Then freeze for stir fries, pasta sauces and other cooked dishes. These cubes are filled with finely chopped oregano leaves and extra virgin olive oil. Try rosemary and other herbs too. Whichever liquid you use, dry herbs carefully before placing in ice cube trays and add liquid very slowly, so it doesn’t splash everywhere. Within 24 hours, the herb cubes should be frozen and ready to pop into well-labeled freezer bags. Mark each bag with a permanent pen so you remember what you froze. They all start to look alike after a while. Store bags flat in the coldest part of your freezer.
2. Herb Bags: Ice cube trays provide a single serving of frozen herbs, but some prefer to store herbs in freezer bags instead. Wash herbs, and then remove excess water with a salad spinner. Pack your herbs in a well-marked freezer bag. Push out excess air from the bag before sealing. Break off frozen pieces of herbs, and add to soups and culinary dishes, as needed.
3. Herb Paste: How about a garden-grown herbal paste made from dill or tarragon for cooked vegetables or rice? Mix 1/3 cup of olive oil with 2 cups of chopped, cleaned fresh herbs, which have been dried off completely. Then freeze in bags, after pushing out excess air.
4. Pesto: Each summer, we freeze a couple trays of basil pesto. I’ll admit it’s not easy to freeze these delectable sauces, when I’d rather eat them up immediately. But there is something wonderful in winter about dropping a few frozen cubes of pesto into a big pot of drained and steaming hot pasta. I feel instantly reconnected with my garden again, even if it’s snowing outside. Consider freezing:
• Basil Pesto: Fresh basil, walnuts (or pine nuts), parmesan cheese, garlic, olive oil.
• Mint Pistachio Pesto: Fresh mint, pistachio nuts, asiago cheese, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil.
• Arugula Pesto: Peppery arugula leaves, parmesan, pine nuts, olive oil.
5. Flower Ice Cubes: Freeze single unsprayed, edible flowers – such as violas, pansies, calendula and borage – in ice cube trays for stylish drinks. Experts recommend you boil distilled water before freezing to get clear ice. But, don’t beat yourself up if they don’t turn out perfectly clear. I followed this advice, and my ice cubes still clouded up and cracked. (I’ve heard this from friends as well.) Still my flower cubes looked pretty enough floating in a tall glass of ice tea – even if they weren’t ready for the cover of a glossy food magazine. Don’t forget, flowers from delicious herbs like mint, lemon balm and citrus thyme add a nice touch too.