You may not be old enough to remember this, but there was a commercial on television years ago where the mother was in the kitchen making rice krispie treats for her family. Wanting them to think they were more work than they were, she threw some flour on her face, messed up her hair, and came out of the kitchen looking frazzled with the plate of treats that had taken only minutes to make. It was pretty cute, especially since you don’t even use flour to make rice krispie treats:) Well, today I have a simple recipe that looks like it is way more work than it is, and something you might want to add to your cooking arsenal.
We are now beyond the middle of August, and with the approach of fall, I like to squeak every last bit out of my fresh herb garden. Some herbs, like rosemary and spearmint, hold over if the winter isn’t too harsh. Others, like basil and dill, are more delicate. If you don’t use them, dry them, or bring them inside, they will soon be gone. With that thought in mind, I have a favorite way to use end-of-the-season herbs that is not only simple, but delicious; herb butter.
To make herb butter, start with room temperature butter, either salted or unsalted depending on your preference. While you are waiting for your butter to come up to temp would be a good time to harvest your fresh herbs. For this batch of herb butter, I am using basil, parsley, rosemary and dill. The basil and rosemary are fresh, and the parsley and dill are dry. For added flavor, I added a pinch of season salt, but this optional. This might be a good time to mention that even if you do not have fresh herbs, they are readily available in the produce section of the grocery store. All fresh, a combination of fresh and dried herbs from the pantry, or even all dried herbs will work for this recipe. For optimum flavor, I would recommend using half fresh and half dried.
Chop or mince the fresh herbs on a cutting board, and add to the softened butter. If using dry herbs, add them to the butter, as well. Using a food processor, spatula or hand mixer, thoroughly blend the herbs and butter until combined. Because of the woodiness of rosemary, I used the small food processor to allow the blades to further chop the herbs. After blended, separate the butter into 2 equal sections and place on a piece of parchment or wax paper. Roll up into a log shape, twisting the ends to secure. At this point, either refrigerate or freeze the logs for later use. If freezing, it should be used within 2 months for optimal flavor.
To serve, take the chilled herb butter log out of the paper and cut into round pats. The pats of herb butter can be used on cooked vegetables, potatoes, or other side dishes. Tonight, we are using it on fresh corn on the cob and grilled flank steak. Whipping herb butter into mashed potatoes works well, and it is particularly good as the fat component in the rice cooker when making rice pilaf. Another favorite is to use it to create butter noodles with cooked pasta. And of course, it is delicious as an accompaniment in a ramekin dish alongside your favorite bread or rolls. We had this recently on a trip to Sun Valley with some warm rolls, and as a final flourish, they topped the butter with a sprinkle of pink Himalayan salt. So pretty, and so good!
One of the great things about herb butter is that it is almost fool-proof, and the combinations of herbs is almost infinite. The holidays might be the right time to use more traditional seasonings for that season such as thyme and sage. In the spring, using a fresh mint would be lovely with a spring mix risotto or a lamb dish. Once you have herb butter in your refrigerator, I guarantee you will find clever ways to incorporate it into your meals. Recently, I was making the topping for my white chicken spaghetti (blog post on that upcoming!), using a melted butter and panko mixture. Instead of regular butter, I decided to try using the herb butter. Wow, what a nice difference it made to the topping of that casserole! No matter what you serve herb butter with, it immediately elevates it to something so flavorful and fancy, everyone will think you had to break a sweat making it. To further drive home that point, you could always mess up your hair and throw a little flour on your face. It can be our little secret!