5@5 - Celebrate your herb bounty
September 21st, 2011
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Excess herbs - there are worse problems to have. But when you've gone to the trouble of growing them in boxes on a rooftop in the middle of a busy city, you want to make sure you use them to their fullest potential.

Scott Walton, executive chef at Markethouse Restaurant in Chicago specializes in fresh, locally sourced ingredients - some grown mere feet above diners' heads - and it's his mission to make sure every bit of it is sufficiently savored.

C'mon - thyme's a wasting!

Five Ways to Use Herbs Year 'Round: Scott Walton

1. Pick your pesto
Most gardens have an abundance of basil leaves this time of year. A traditional pesto sauce, made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts and parmesan is always good, but this year try something unique. Use your imagination to whip up fun combinations such as sage and walnut or mint and hazelnut. The options are endless.

Make perfect pesto, Amalfi Coast style

2. Medicinal herbs all season long
During cold and flu season, dried herbs still have essentials oils needed to make your favorite teas. Try drying mint, rosemary or lavender by cutting at the stem and allowing them to hang upside down in a cool place. When dry, pick the leaves and store in an air tight container. If possible, remember the rule of using dry herbs to start and fresh herbs to finish.

3. Rubs and smoking
Experiment with using excess herbs to create fresh marinades and rubs. To create a nice 'smoky' rub, hang and dry excess cilantro and fennel plants to reserve the coriander and fennel seeds. Toast the spices lightly and put in a coffee grinder to produce the right consistency.

Master the art of the rub

4. Innovative cocktails all winter long
Some of the best cocktails are made by muddling and garnishing alcoholic beverages with fresh herbs. Freezing herbs can guarantee fresh cocktail hour all winter long. To freeze, rinse herbs and wrap in a paper towel to remove excess moisture. A food saver system is your best bet, but you can also use a Ziploc bag and keep in the freezer until cocktail hour. A food saver is actually fun to play with and you’ll be vacuum sealing everything in sight

5. Make better butter
Not only do homemade compound butters go great on bagels, vegetables, popcorn and even fish, but they have a long shelf life as well. Mix in chives, rosemary or even lavender for a unique spread to store in the refrigerator or give as a unique hostess gift.

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Herbs • Ingredients • Rooftop Gardening • Think • Urban Gardening

soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Stefan

    Petunia is on the right track, but my father takes it a step further. He harvests his basil twice a season, each time making large batches of pesto sauce. He then puts the pesto sauce into his ice cube trays, a few hours later pops the pesto cubes out and throws them into ziploc bags for the freezer. Instant pesto sauce anytime you want or need it, or a cube of flavor for a winter soup. Makes it convenient and easy to deal with and doesn't waste the late summer/early fall abundance.

    September 22, 2011 at 12:12 am |
  2. Petunia

    Another method of freezing is to put into ice cube trays with water and freeze. This preserves some of the original freshness and you can easily plop the cubes into stocks and soups. You can melt the ice off and use the herbs, or you can mix multiple herbs into one cube too.

    September 21, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  3. Um...really?

    Title on the CNN front page: "How to use up your herbs"

    No one's going to make a joke about this? No one? Really?? HAHA!

    September 21, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  4. Anna

    Not a moment too soon as the basil crop this year was fabulous. Question: How do you know when corn is ready to be harvested. I experimented with some dollar corn seed packets and have many twelve to fourteen foot high corn stalks with lots of tasseled corn ears waiting to be harvested, but when is the right time?

    September 21, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      So – I just ran into the same thing. Does the ear feel full? Is the silk sorta dry and brown? Good to go!

      September 21, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
      • Josh G

        According to my ex-corn-farmer father in law, you just have to peel back the husk and look. If they look dented, too late, they're overripe. That's the best advice he could give.

        September 21, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • Farm Girl

      12-14' high stalks are 'cow' corn or field corn, NOT sweet corn. You can still try and eat them but they will be less sweet, more starchy and a bit tougher. When the silk is brown, pick.

      September 21, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  5. Terry Brookman

    When I can get them I roll them up and smoke them.

    September 21, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • NeoSHNIK

      amen to that, my friend.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
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