Freezing pesto

With two frosts already under my belt and nightly temperatures routinely dropping into the 30s, I decided to stop playing chicken with my basil and the weather. I picked almost all my basil (and Mom contributed some of hers as well) and made a huge batch of pesto. Pesto freezes well in small freezer bags or in ice cube trays; if using trays, place cubes into freezer bags once they’re solid. Just defrost whenever you want to use it. Pesto sounds really good on some cold winter nights, but if you want it in January, you’d better make it now.

This is the pesto recipe that I more or less follow:

Pesto

 2 -3 cups fresh basil leaves

¼ cup pine nuts

1 garlic clove

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

½ grated or shredded Parmesan cheese

Salt & pepper to taste

 In a food processor or blender, combine the basil, nuts, garlic, salt and pepper until finely chopped. With the food processor still running, slowly add the olive oil until a nice, thick consistency is formed. Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the Parmesan cheese. *I have also added the cheese while the pesto is still the food processor and pulsed it a couple of times, that works fine too.

 Remember that pesto will turn dark fairly quickly, so if you’re not going to use immediately, be sure to cover it with plastic wrap – press the wrap directly down on top of the pesto – and refrigerate.

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Today at Hill City FM

Todd Gregson at the Hill City Farmers' Market

Todd Gregson at the Hill City Farmers' Market

I dropped by the Hill City Farmers’ Market today to see what actual RIPE tomatoes look like, so I bought a few, too. Todd Gregson of Gregson’s Gardens was on hand with a huge selection of summer squash, zucchini and hot peppers, plus slicing, paste and cherry tomatoes. I’m anxious to try the heirloom yellow paste tomatoes called German Sausages — how can you not like that name? I’m thinking about whipping up a fresh salsa with today’s finds.

Herb butters

Now that late summer has arrived, the herb garden is in high gear. If you’re looking for ways to use more of your garden’s bounty, make herb butter. It’s a sure-fire way to class up a meal, and will impress your family and friends. (You don’t have to tell them how easy it was to make.)

Herb butter, sometimes called compound butter, is a lovely complement to fresh bread, making bread-and-butter an hors d’oeuvre all by itself. There are many ways to utilize herb butter: use on pasta, potatoes, steamed or grilled vegetables, steaks, fish, lamb chops, or shrimp. Pour melted herb butter over popcorn to kick up your movie night.

Tightly covered herb butter will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks; you can even freeze it tightly wrapped in wax paper and aluminum foil. If freezing the butter, roll it into a log in order to slice off a pat whenever you need it.

Be sure to use unsalted butter as the flavor is superior to that of salted butter; you can add salt to any of these recipes if you wish. Any fresh herbs will work in an herb butter; you can use different herb combinations or even concentrate on one herb, such as rosemary or dill.

 Basic Herb Butter

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 ½ teaspoon minced scallions (green onions)

1 ½ teaspoons minced fresh dill

1 ½ teaspoons minced fresh thyme

1 ½ teaspoons minced fresh parsley

½ teaspoon salt

 Combine all ingredients with a mixer or by hand. Spread it on bread or add a pat to a steak hot off the grill.

 Garlic Chive Butter

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 clove minced garlic

1 Tablespoon finely chopped chives

 Combine all ingredients with a mixer or by hand. Garlic chive butter tastes glorious on bread, potatoes and corn.

 Rosemary Butter

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

2 – 3 cloves minced garlic

1 Tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary leaves, removed from stem

½ teaspoon lemon zest (optional)

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

 Combine all ingredients with a mixer or by hand. This butter is delicious with steaks, lamb chops and potatoes.

 Cilantro Lime Butter

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

2 Tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

1 Tablespoon lime juice

¼ teaspoon salt

 Combine all ingredients with a mixer or by hand. Cilantro lime butter adds a Caribbean flair to chicken, shrimp and fish.

Drying herbs

As garden production peaks it’s easy to become overwhelmed by an avalanche of tomatoes and other veggies ready to be turned into sauces and salsas but don’t neglect the quiet part of the garden — the herbs. Many people grow herbs only to forget about them at the crucial point when they could be preserving them. While we use herbs in smaller quantities than vegetables, drying your own can save you a great deal of money. Dill weed, dried parsley, basil, thyme and oregano can cost several dollars for a fraction of an ounce.

I have a dehydrator that I use for herbs, but it’s not necessary. Herbs air dry well; it just takes more time. You can bundle them with twine and hang upside down in a warm, dry, dark area or you can dry them spread out on old window screens. I’ve successfully used both methods in the past. I’m not crazy about using the oven for drying herbs because it gets too hot, leading to dry, but dark, herbs.

Herbs are delicate, so it’s better to dry them at a lower temperature, not above 95 degrees if you can help it. Some dehydrators have thermostats on them so you can regulate the temperature; mine isn’t that fancy, but it does cycle on and off, keeping the herbs from getting too hot. The stackable trays are easily rearranged, making it simple to move herbs around in the dehyrdator to regulate how much heat they receive. Depending on how the dehydrator works, you may notice that trays at either the top or bottom get warmer than the others, so you may want to rearrange once or twice while drying. Also, I put very delicate herbs, like chervil, on the coolest trays to help preserve their color. Herbs dry very quickly compared to fruits and vegetables, making it possible to dry a couple batches per day.

So drag out that dehydrator or dust off some old screens and go snip some herbs. Your food and your wallet will thank you.

Farmers’ Market finds

Yesterday I dropped in at the Black Hills Farmers’ Market located on West Omaha in Rapid City (open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 9 a.m.) and spent a very pleasant hour shopping. Those of you who know me know that I hate shopping, so if I liked it, it must be fun.

I scored some tomatoes, but not romas for salsa and sauce, those just aren’t ready in quantity yet, some huge sweet onions, sweet corn, raw honey, and eggplant. Coupled with my own zucchini and eggplant (so far I’ve picked one), I can make ratatouile. I also bought a three-pound bag of whole wheat flour grown right in Wall from Darel Anderson. I’ve written about the difficulties of finding locally grown flour, so I was very pleased to meet him. And then I kicked myself.

Why am I kicking myself after finding all this great food? Because I didn’t have my cooler, and I met Dawn Habeck with Black Hills Milk. Had I thrown my cooler in the car, I could have brought home milk for cheese and cream for butter! Oh well, maybe next weekend. Dawn comes to the Farmers’ Market, but is also available by appointment at the dairy. Giver her a call at 605-210-0168 or email jdhabeck@mato.com.

Found goat milk!

Great news — there is a certified goat dairy in this area! Thanks to Rebecca Lord at the Hill City Farmers Market who gave me the name and number of a woman south of Custer who has a herd of dairy goats.

The dairy operator is Lila Streff, and she’s currently milking 16 dairy goats in a beautiful, new barn with an attached Grade A kitchen. She sells milk, a variety of cheeses and yogurt. I visited Lila today, got a tour of her set-up and sampled her cheeses. Even though I bought a gallon of milk to make my own cheese, I bought a container of soft cheese from her because it’s seriously good.

If you’re looking for milk or locally made cheese, get in touch with Lila. Her phone number is 605-673-3554 and her email is streffers8@gwtc.net.

Homemade applesauce

Apple season is rapidly approaching, which means applesauce and apple butter are right around the corner. My husband and I love applesauce, especially with roast pork. Our daughter HATES it, and no, that’s not too strong of a word. She’d spit it out as a toddler and basically never grew out of it, so I gave up trying a long time ago.

That said, we still eat it, and it’s easy to make at home. It doesn’t matter what kind of apples you use as long as they’re peeled and cored. You could probably even get away with not peeling them if you’re willing to run it through a foodmill after it’s cooked. Applesauce is a great way to get rid of less-than-perfect apples that aren’t suitable for eating fresh, too. This is my basic recipe, all amounts are approximate. Use more apples if they’re smaller, add more sugar if you like it sweeter, skip the cinnamon if you wish. It’s really hard to screw up applesauce. Also, I always cook mine in the crockpot because it’s just the easiest way for me.

Applesauce

8 medium-sized apples, peeled, cored and quartered

2 Tbs water

¼ C sugar

Cinnamon to taste (I use about 1/4 tsp)

 Put all ingredients in a crock-pot on low heat, cook several hours or overnight until soft, stirring occasionally. When soft, mash lumps with a potato masher. If you want to make it smoother, you can run it through a food mill or blend briefly with an immersion blender. Serve warm or allow to cool. Applesauce can also be frozen in quart freezer bags.

Entering the ranks

Half a dozen jars of strawberry jam

Half a dozen jars of strawberry jam

I’ve entered the ranks of an ancient society, no not the Illuminati, the Canners. I canned solo for the first time this week; having grown up in a family of canners, I honestly don’t know what took me so long. A late bloomer, I guess.

For my first foray, I made strawberry jam, pretty basic. It was fairly easy and turned out beautifully. Though I did buy the strawberries at the store, I won’t need to buy strawberry jam all year, and I gained a new skill. I now have a flat of canning peaches waiting to be transformed into peach preserves. And I’m dreaming of my all-time favorite, apple butter….

Honestly, I’m not alone. I’ve found several sisters in canning, also in their 30’s, so the art of canning isn’t really dead. In fact, it may be experiencing a revival. Perhaps instead of Canners we should call it something more sophisticated, like the Cannerati, but that’s probably an Italian swearword.

Caprese salad

Caprese salad -- the taste of summer

Caprese salad -- the taste of summer

Nothing says “summer” quite like fresh tomatoes and basil, and a caprese salad is a terrific way to marry the flavors along with creamy, fresh mozzarella. Now I’ve been working on making my own mozzarella, but since I don’t quite the technique down, I’ve had to settle for store-bought. Belgioso makes a nice one that is readily available at area grocery stores.

This recipe is from my Cucina Fresca cookbook, but I usually end up adapting it for one or two servings. I also just scatter the basil leaves on the salad rather than cutting them into julienne strips.

Caprese Salad

4 ripe tomatoes

1 pound fresh mozzarella

Red wine vinegar (optional)

4 – 5 medium basil leaves

Extra virgin olive oil

 Cut the tomatoes slightly larger than ¼ inch slices; slice the mozzarella a little thinner than the tomatoes. If the tomatoes lack a citrus-acid bite, sprinkle with a little red wine vinegar. Cut the basil into julienne strips by place one leaf on top of another; roll up the stack and slice into strips. Arrange the tomato and mozzarella slices alternately on a plate, sprinkle the basil over them. Drizzle the oil over all and serve immediately.

Fall seeds

Hopefully we’ll have enough fall season to plant fall seeds, but if you want a late season garden, best get those seeds in the ground right away. Unless it starts snowing in September, then all bets are off. Considering that I have every sheet that’s not already on a bed out covering plants, plus a few tablecloths and blankets, I’m not overly optimistic tonight.

However, if I were an optimist, I’d be planting fall spinach, lettuce and greens right now. Many greens are frost hardy and will bear well into fall, even later with a cold frame. I’m planting Regal Spinach, Tah Tsai (a spinach mustard green), Ching-Chiang Pac Choi, and Winterwunder Lettuce. All these varieties are short-season and frost-tolerant. If you live down in the Hot Springs area, you could probably even plant beets for their greens.

Though let’s see if we get through the next few cold nights before I get too ambitious. I kind of think fall is already here.

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