With summer coming to a close (we know, we know, we’re right there with you), you’re probably rushing to use up all of its beautiful bounty before it goes out of season. How we’re going to miss those juicy, drip-down-your-chin peaches, sweet, beefy tomatoes, and topping anything and everything with bright green strips of basil.
Not too fast, says Alex Guarnaschelli, executive chef at Butter in New York City, veteran Food Network judge, and, as her Instagram bio reads, “budding comedian.” You can save your favorite summer foods — like all those pricey herbs you bought way too much of — for the colder months.
But how, exactly?
Store them properly — even for short-term use
“Roll them in a damp kitchen towel or a damp paper towel, or keep them like flowers in individual bouquets in a plastic cup in the fridge,” she told TODAY Food.
“The longer I look at something, the more my imagination churns and I can find somewhere to put it.”
Put them in any and every dish you make
“I love to chop them and put them in a salsa. If I’m cooking chicken, or I’ve got that weeknight steak or that weeknight eggplant or stir-fry, just taking a pair of scissors and snipping stems, leaves and all, for things like tarragon, cilantro, basil, parsley, and tossing them into anything.
“If you’re making a salad of any kind, cut the herbs, stems and all, and toss them into your mixed greens salad, a romaine salad, iceberg, Bibb — it just adds a special touch. Fresh herbs really belong anywhere you put them.”
Or, to get even more creative, put them in your drinks, too
“You can make like a mint tea or a basil tea for yourself,” she says. “Equal parts sugar and water, simmer it, take it off the stove, pour it in a bowl, drop in the herbs — like mint or basil — and let ’em steep for three minutes.
“You can also make an herb-y syrup for cocktails. So, just a couple cups of liquid, with a little bit of sugar, simmer it until the sugar dissolves, take it off the heat, drop a big handful of herbs in there. The more flavor the better.”
“Or make beautiful, herb-y ice cubes,” she suggests. “You can make lemonade or iced tea ice cubes. Pour the lemonade into the trays with the herbs, and that way, when the ice cubes are in the lemonade, it’s flavored so it doesn’t dilute it.”
And for longer-term storage…
“Freeze herbs by stem and all — don’t just freeze the leaves. It’s better to keep them sturdier. Put the stems and the leaves together, into a plastic bag and just wrap it up and freeze it like that,” she recommends.
“They’re not as great when you freeze and defrost them, so let’s not have any illusion about that. But at least you don’t lose them and you can use them anywhere, in sauces and other stuff.”
Any other foods worth saving from summer?
“I am a big fan of just cooking down tomatoes and canning them. I bring the tomatoes up to a boil, sterilize the jars, pack them tightly with the cooked tomatoes, mix the tomatoes so all the air comes out, and then I just seal it, boil the whole jar (with the lid on) and put it in the fridge.
“Or you could just put them in a plastic quart container and freeze it. You pull that out in November, December, and you just have that burst of summer.
“I like to freeze eggplant parm, too,” she continues. “I’ll make eggplant parm in an oven-proof dish, wrap it really tightly with a couple layers of plastic, and pop it in the freezer.
“It’s so great to have on nights you don’t feel like cooking. You just take it out, peel off the plastic, cover it with a layer of foil in the oven, slow and low, and that’s it — the smell of summer fills up your house, even in the winter.”