I would highly recommend selecting your herbs not just with the week's meals in mind, but your winter pantry as well. Thyme, basil, oregano and rosemary all dry relatively well and are useful for brightening winter dishes. For my birthday last week, my wonderful husband bought me a dehydrator! Maybe this wouldn't be exciting to you, but I'm over the moon about it. As soon as we got our share home, I set the herbs to dry.
You don't need a dehydrator to dry your herbs though, just a paper bag and some time. Think ahead just a bit and you will be delighted with the results mid-winter. Freshly dried herbs truly make a difference!
There are some herbs that I don't seem to use much of when they're dried. Sage, which I have in the picture above, is one of them. Instead of adding to my underused store, I preserved the sage in butter. Compound butters work well for herbs that either don't dry well or that you would prefer to use "fresh" in a dish with butter.
Mince the herb (I just use scissors) and mash the butter in with it, using a fork. Room temperature butter is much easier to work with. Once it's properly mixed, scoop the mixture onto a large piece of plastic wrap and shape into whatever shape suits you - logs are good. Wrap the log and place in the freezer for future use. My plan for this butter is to be gently melted and browned then tossed with pasta. Simple and delicious.
When we see the first tomatoes of the summer we are always overjoyed. By the end of August, tomatoes have become old news - I almost get bored trying to think of what to do with them. We must not let this happen! To bring new life to my tomato scene, I plan to make a tomato tart. Fresh tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, drizzle of olive oil all on top of a flaky tart crust. It's like pizza but more buttery.
I believe most basic cookbooks can guide you to a decent tart crust (I'd suggest one without sugar). Simply roll out your dough, fill it with fresh-cut tomatoes and whatever else sounds good - garlic maybe? Fold the sides of the dough up as pictured above and bake on a tray or pizza stone until golden brown. Again, I'd reference the dough recipe for heat and approximate time. Here is a recipe for a savory, whole wheat pastry dough.
Second tomato inspiration: roasted! Yes, you can make your very own sun dried tomatoes in your oven at home. If you're lucky enough to have an oven that bakes below 200 (or a dehydrator!), you're in even better shape as a slower roast dried them better with less risk of burning. Set your oven to its lowest heat setting. Wash your tomatoes, slice them in half lengthwise and toss with olive oil. Spread slices open side up on a tray (you may want to line it with parchment paper). You can also add pieces of garlic if you wish. Sprinkle lightly with salt and leave in the oven for a few hours, checking periodically until they are shriveled and flavorful. You can find good directions here, as well.
I said I would give an update as to what we did with our hot peppers ...
Wearing gardening gloves, I took the tops off these hot peppers and sliced them down the middle. Put them in a pint Mason jar, covered with high-quality vodka and left it on a shelf in the pantry.
I was planning on leaving it there for a few days but thought I'd check up on it about 6 hours after starting the infusion. I dipped in a spoon and took just a tiny drop to taste. I would describe the sensation as liquid fire! Seriously though, I immediately dropped the spoon and ran to the fridge to start gulping whipping cream. We'll keep this stuff around, but we'll be sure to use it very sparingly!
And finally, when you can't think of what to do with your veggies, I suggest ratatouille. Yes, it sounds fancy and yes, it's delicious. Thankfully, this dish is also flexible and simple. We still had an eggplant on hand last night, not sure from where, so I peeled and chopped that into 1/2 inch pieces, chopped a sweet pepper (you could use more than one), chopped and onion and chopped, cored and seeded a handful of tomatoes. All of these I sauteed in olive oil over medium heat, separately (this isn't necessary but according to some it makes the overall dish better - if you'd like, just toss them all straight into the baking dish). As each batch was finished, I layered it into a lightly oiled 9 x 13 baking dish. Once everything is in, add some pieces of crushed garlic and bake, uncovered, in a preheated oven at 350 for about an hour.
If you happen to have zucchini or summer squash on hand, you can add those or substitute them. You could add more peppers or make it onion-heavy. I sprinkled freshly dried thyme and basil-oregano vinegar on ours, which was tasty! I'd show you a picture but have you seen baked eggplant? It's just not pretty. So, take my word for it that it tastes wonderful.
Have a great week!
Courtney and Grady