Herbs are one of the easiest plants you can grow especially in small spaces. Once plants are established you can pick from them when you need small amounts. I much prefer cutting herbs from my garden than buying a bunch from the store only to use a small portion. Also store-bought herbs are expensive. Picking herbs right before using offers the freshest taste as well as smell.
One of my favorite herbs is thyme. I love picking fresh thyme because it smells so delicious. Currently I have about 6 thyme plants around my garden. I have tried to grow thyme from seed without much luck. I have also grown thyme from cuttings from my dad’s plant. I just took some cuttings, put them in water for a few days until I started to see little roots then stuck them in some pots. This year I have bought a few established plants from the nursery because my seed starts did not transplant well.
Today I also picked some oregano to dry. I have two main oregano plants. One has been established in my herb bed for two years now. The other I started by taking some cuttings off the first plant and sticking them in the ground. This plant has done amazingly well and for little to no work! Two plants for the price of one! I have tied up the oregano and thyme bunches with ribbon to dry. I usually dry my herbs inside because I like smelling them as I walk by. Hang them up for a few weeks and then you can separate the leaves from the stalks to put in spice jars. This is an extremely economical way of having spices and much cheaper than buying dried spices from the store.
During the summer months there is always a glut of tomatoes to harvest although this year my tomato harvest has been quite disappointing. Nevertheless, I love this roasted tomato sauce recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg cookbook. The recipe is easy, and can be used many different ways. I was excited that I had all the ingredients on hand from my garden (minus the olive oil and salt and pepper)! It was really nice to know that everything in this particular batch of tomato sauce came straight from the garden.
Roasted Tomato Sauce
from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg
- 3 to 4 pounds of tomatoes, larger ones halved
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- A few springs of thyme
- A couple springs of marjoram (optional)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lay the tomatoes, cut side up if halved, on a baking sheet. Scatter over the garlic and herbs and trickle over the oil. Season with plenty of salt and pepper. Put the baking sheet in the oven for about an hour, maybe a bit longer, until the tomatoes are completely soft and pulpy, and starting to crinkle and caramelize on top. Set the tomatoes aside to cool for half an hour or so. Then tip them into a large sieve set over a bowl and rub the pulp through with a wooden spoon or use a food mill. Discard the skins and seeds. Your tomato sauce is now ready to use.
I don’t use marjoram but replace it with a few springs of fresh rosemary. Also, after I pull the tomatoes out of the oven and they have cooled, I put the tomatoes in my food processor for a few whirls until I get a nice sauce-like texture. I don’t bother to food mill my sauce because I don’t mind skins in my sauce. I transfer my whirled sauce into a sauce pan and let it gently simmer on low heat for about a half hour. Then I season to taste.
If I am not going to use my sauce right away I put it in mason jars and freeze it. Because there is a bit of oil in this recipe, I don’t can it.
The other day I harvested basil and made pesto so I have decided to do a post about my pesto. The first pesto recipe I used was a vegan recipe from Ida Chandra Moskowitz’s Vegan with a Vengeance. Over the years, I have changed the recipe to meet my tastes. I love my pesto to be super lemony and garlicky. I never measure any of the ingredients because it usually depends on how much basil I harvest at the time. I’ve made it so many times that I can eyeball what I need and then I always have a baguette around to taste test as I go along… sometimes I end up eating it straight out of the mixer. I also make huge batches of pesto at once usually a few quarts at a time since I harvest so much basil.
- 1 & 1/2 cups walnuts
- About 6 cups of packed basil leaves (usually I fill my 9 cup food processor once, quickly blitz the leaves and fill it up a second time)
- 3 to 6 cloves of garlic
- 1 to 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Juice of one or two lemons
Pick your basil straight from the garden (it is freshest this way and makes for better tasting pesto). Wash the leaves, put through a salad spinner or dry on a towel. Make sure the basil leaves are completely dry before making the pesto. Toast the walnuts in a toaster oven (or regular oven) at 350°F for about 5 minutes on a baking sheet. Let the walnuts cool. If you make pesto with hot walnuts the nuts will wilt your fresh basil leaves.
Blitz the basil in a food processor (or blender) first. Then add walnuts, garlic, salt and lemon juice. Blend in the food processor until combined, scraping down the sides as you go. Continue to process while adding the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Sample at this point and add more ingredients to your taste.
You can add parmesan cheese to your pesto if you would like but honestly if you up the lemon and garlic you really don’t miss the cheese. I make my pesto without cheese and add it when I eat it. This is because I freeze pesto in quart Ziploc bags and it is better to add the cheese in right before you eat it. The pesto freezes really well in these bags. I lay the bag flat on a cookie sheet so it freezes flat, then I stack them in my freezer. When we want pesto I take a bag out of the freezer and open it up while still frozen. I transfer the pesto into a container to let it thaw (it is much easier this way and isn’t a mess trying to get the pesto out of a bag later). Making pesto fresh in the summer and freezing it allows you to enjoy pesto all winter long!
Many people make their pesto with pine nuts. I find that walnuts have a much bolder, darker flavor which I love about this recipe. Also walnuts are so much cheaper than pine nuts. When making pesto in bulk, walnuts are the way to go! I think one day I will need a walnut tree to match my field of basil. Once you make your own, you will never buy expensive, flavorless store-bought pesto again! We eat the pesto with pasta, on sandwiches, or slathered on a toasted baguette. Enjoy!
This year I made an effort to increase the number of pepper plants in my garden. Back in May I wrote a little post about my Jalapeño pepper plants. The plants are doing great in the ground and the other day I was able to harvest about a pound of peppers. One reason why I am growing the peppers is to make pickled Jalapeños. I ate so many of these last year and I didn’t have any to can so I am hoping to have enough this year to can. I only can when I have lots to can at once. I don’t want to waste the energy of boiling that large amount of water if I only have a few jars so the other day I made quick refrigerator pickled Jalapeños. These are not canned and I put them directly into my fridge. I am hoping that late in the summer I will actually have enough peppers to can and store for the rest of the year! Looking at how healthy my plants are in the garden, I am sure I will have plenty of peppers! They are almost exactly like the quick refrigerator pickles and I got the recipe from the same blog, Food In Jars. You can find a more detailed step by step of the recipe here.
A few things to keep in mind: wear gloves and don’t inhale when pouring the hot liquid over the peppers or you will inhale very spicy vapors.
Since I have been harvesting so many cucumbers, I decided I needed to start processing them other than eating them raw in salads. My cucumbers are perfectly straight so great for making pickles! Trellising your cucumbers allows your fruit to hang down letting gravity help you grow straight cucumbers. Plus cucumbers are great climbers and trellising prevents the fruit from rotting on the ground. I used Food in Jar’s Refrigerator Dill Pickles but added and subtracted to fit my tastes. I wanted to make a small batch and I didn’t feel like canning on a day when our projected high is going to be 100°. Plus a girl can only eat so many pickles!
First I washed and then cut off the ends of the cucumbers. I cut each cucumber into 8 wedges. One cucumber was a little too long so I had to trim off the ends a bit to have it fit into my 16 oz. canning jars. I wish I had used my wide mouth jars so I could have fit the cucumbers in a little better. I added two cloves of garlic to each jar and a 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper as well.
I measured 3/4 cups of apple cider vinegar, 3/4 cups of filtered water and 2 teaspoons of pickling salt which I brought to a boil on the stove. When the brine came to a boil, I transferred it to a measuring cup and poured it into the jars leaving about a 1/4 inch gap on top. I popped the lids on and let them cool on the counter before putting them in the fridge.
I can’t wait to eat these in a day or two! I have a whole month to eat them before they go bad but I have a feeling they wont last that long! I foresee many batches of these pickles during the summer months. The whole process, including clean up, took me about 15 minutes so this is a super easy recipe to do. If I end up having a glut of cucumbers and more time on my hands I am going to try canning them too!