From the window of my “cozy” (read: tiny) Brooklyn apartment I often indulge in wistful daydreams about having a little herb garden. I have intermittently made forays into the world of potted windowsill herbs, with uneven results. So, someday I hope to find myself able to stroll out into the herb garden and pick whatever I need for dinner that evening… but until then I am stuck buying the twist-tied bundles of fresh herbs like everyone else. There are a couple of things that make these little bundles a challenge. First, unless you are making a really herb-intensive dish like pesto, you probably have far more fresh herbs than you can use at one time. I find that with a combination of proper storage of the fresh herbs and preservation of the remainder, I can put the whole packet to good use.
Storing fresh herbs:
You can think of storing fresh herbs like you would fresh flowers. Cut the ends off and place your herb bouquet in a glass of water. Place a plastic bag over the leaves and store the whole thing in your fridge. Change the water every day or two. Most herbs kept in this fashion will last about a week and a half. If you want to further extend the life of delicate leafy herbs then you can pluck the leaves off and arrange them in a single layer between two damp paper towels (remember to save parsley and cilantro stems in your freezer, as they make an excellent addition to ). Then you can roll or fold the paper towel packet and place it inside a plastic bag. I find that this method will further extend the life of leafy herbs by as much as a week. You might need to periodically refresh the paper towels, making sure to keep them damp.
Drying Fresh Herbs:
So, now let’s assume that you’ve chosen the right methods to store your fresh herbs, but you still have more than you can use. A lot of herbs retain their flavor pretty well when they are dried– rosemary, sage, dill, oregano and thyme come to mind. I will be the first to say that there is a change in the flavor of dried herbs, but the dried herb is not necessarily inferior. And by drying them you are turning your herbs into a useful food product where they might otherwise wilt or degenerate into muck in your fridge. One way to dry your herbs is to tie them up and hang them in a well ventilated area. As soon as they are dried, move them to a small container away from light and heat. You could also spread out fresh leaves onto a baking sheet covered with a non-stick cooking mat or parchment paper. If you live in a very dry climate, they will dry just left out. If you have a gas oven, then you can leave your sheet tray of leaves in the oven. In most ovens, the pilot light provides a good low-heat for drying.
When you have used the leaves of savory herbs like parsley, cilantro and sage, throw the stems into a freezer bag for the next time you make vegetable stock. Cilantro and parsley are good for almost any stock, but the stems of more flavorful herbs like rosemary and oregano should be used sparingly, and only when you want to highlight that particular flavor.