Now, before you completely freak out, I REALIZE that fall has only now decided to start showing itself to most of us. The trees here in Southern Maryland are only showing the barest HINT of color. However, now is harvest time… and now is the perfect opportunity to capture that peak flavor in gifts for your loved ones.
Jellies and jams are beautiful and tasty for gift giving. But let’s say you’re not the jelly or jam type. After all, jellies and jams take time and equipment. Cooking down the fruit, processing the canning jars, it takes a lot of time and effort!
However, herb gifts are beautiful, delicious, and EASY to make. One of my favorite things to make and to use is herb salt. Think rosemary roasted potatoes. But rosemary isn’t always the easiest thing to work with, right? I mean it’s kind of woody, and sappy, and if you don’t mince it fine enough, it’s really hard to chew! BUT, think rosemary salt out of a shaker, to season those potatoes and the rosemary is already perfectly processed, and the oils have infused the salt to bring that flavor without the downside.
Here’s how to make it:
Coarse sea salt
Strip the leaves off of the stems of the rosemary and add them to your food processor. The amount is UP TO YOU. I like my salt quite “herby” so I usually end up with about 3 – 4 Tablespoons of chopped herbs per cup of salt. Pulse the processor to start chopping the herbs a bit. You want a very fine mince, not liquified herbs, so PULSE! Then add about a cup of sea salt and pulse again until the salt grains are reduced to the size of Kosher salt grains. Pour the herbed salt out into a measuring cup and then mix with an equal amount of Kosher salt. Pour into small jars and seal. The herbs will infuse the salt after 2 weeks, and the mixture keeps for months. Delicious on potatoes, or as a rub for meat or chicken.
You can use ANY herb, or even combinations of herbs. Here’s the ONLY thing to remember…rosemary is a fairly “dry” herb. I also like using sage, parsley, thyme, garlic and oregano, basil… for those herbs that have more moisture in their leaves, you will have to give the salt time to dry a bit before sealing in the jars. Once you have mixed the herb and sea salt mixture with the Kosher salt, lay the entire batch out on a sheet pan near an open window to dry out for a few days. THEN pack the salt into jars for gift giving.
Another great (and easy!) idea is herb infused oil. This takes a little more time… and some planning, but it’s worth it. Besides, you aren’t going to be doing anything during the time… the sun or your dehydrator is! Pick your herbs at the peak of flavor. Then either dry them in a food dehydrator, or in the sun. Once dry, put the herbs into the jar you will use as your infusing vessel. You want enough herbs to fill at least 1/4 of the jar. Be sure to keep a few sprigs of dried herbs out to put into the bottles of your final product! Now, pour in the olive oil (you can use canola oil too, but I prefer olive) over the herbs and seal the jar. Let the oil sit for at least a month to infuse the flavors. Once infused, put a sprig of dried herb into the bottle you are going to use, and pour the infused oil through a strainer into a funnel and into the bottle. Seal and decorate with a ribbon. Rosemary works well here too, but so does basil, thyme, and oregano. Also, don’t be afraid to add maybe some red pepper, or small dried chiles, or peppercorns to your oil to give it that extra kick. Also remember, the more delicately flavored the herb, the lighter in flavor your oil has to be.
If you don’t want to have to worry about drying your herbs before gift giving, then herb vinegar is your answer! There are a few rules in play: any vinegar for herbed vinegar must be at least 5% acidity, and you must use non-reactive (NON-METAL!) utensils, jars, lids, etc. You can add herbs, garlic, orange and lemon peels, chiles, whole spices, you are limited ONLY by your imagination! Wash the herbs and pat them dry, put them into the jar you are using as your infusing vehicle. Pour room temperature vinegar over your herbs and seal with a non-metal lid. Put the vinegar into a cool, dark place for 2-4 weeks. Check for flavor, and when the desired strength is reached, strain the vinegar and discard the herbs. Add a fresh sprig of herb to your decorative bottles, and pour the vinegar in. Seal and decorate.
Can you imagine a gift basket with some rosemary salt, oil and vinegar? Or maybe mix it up and give a mixture of salt, oil, and vinegar with Italian, Greek, or Herbs de Provence? You are only limited by your imagination and the bounty of your herb garden. Start planning and preparing now, and guaranteed you’ll have incredibly flavorful gifts to give your favorite foodies this holiday season!