Alex Guarnaschelli: Use Up Extra Herbs with a Parsley Pesto Recipe
Courtesy Alex Guarnaschelli; Kevin Lynch
Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-School Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.
I work in a restaurant where we use herbs by the pound. It’s the norm to find boxes of herbs in our walk in refrigerator. You think that I’d be able to make ample use of one single bunch of herbs when cooking at home, but I sometimes find myself faced with that leftover half bunch, staring at me sadly from the shelf, getting past it’s prime. So, what to do?
If I buy a bunch of basil, tarragon or parsley for a recipe to make at home, I make a mental note that I have a commitment to use them up quickly. Other more sturdy herbs, like thyme or rosemary, will last for a few additional days. Obviously, parsley, tarragon or basil make a great pesto. To make a very simple pesto, I stem the leaves and blend them raw (if the leaves are small and tender) with some olive oil, a pinch of sugar and a little garlic. There are some steps in pesto making that require a few extra minutes of work before blending – and I find those extra steps worth it. Instead of dropping a whole garlic clove and the leaves straight into the blender, I chop the garlic and herbs first. A whole clove of garlic becomes paste less rapidly than the leaves. That extra time spent blending the unchopped garlic and herbs can also cause the blender to heat the mixture slightly, which can make your delicious pesto turn a dark not-so-vibrant green or brown.
I know we are always looking for quickest prep time and the least amount of dishes, but, in my humble opinion, the pesto tastes and holds better when things are cut into a similar size before blending. I also like it because you can make a chunkier pesto. More texture equals more exciting to eat. I have even taken to putting aside the blender and using a food processor (pulsing only as much as is needed). I love using a mortar and pestle too. Grinding the garlic alone first and then adding the chopped herbs and oil. Sometimes I add a pinch of grated Parmesan cheese to make the pesto thicker, richer and slightly saltier.
Courtesy Alex Guarnaschelli
I also love adding herbs to a vinaigrette. Because the herbs turn brown when mixed with forms of acid (lemon juice, vinegar), I make a batch of vinaigrette, chop the herbs and combine them only at the last minute. A vinaigrette loaded with herbs can be a really great way to enjoy some grilled vegetables, seared fish or roasted meat, depending on what you’re making. One bunch of parsley becomes part pesto, which can sit in the fridge overnight, and part vinaigrette or salad dressing.
If I can’t use all of the herbs right away, I have been known to put the leaves into an ice cube tray (lots of herb, very little water in each compartment) and freeze. This is great because you can use them in braises and soups or just defrost until the water melts and use the herbs that way. I also dry herbs by hanging the bunch (stems and all) upside down until they dry.
Speaking of stems, I have grown to really love the stems of flat-leaf parsley and cilantro. I thinly slice some of the cilantro stems and stir them into guacamole with the leaves. I also love cilantro stems stirred into a spicy chicken soup or a spicy tomato sauce for braised chicken. For parsley, I love the grassy notes some thinly sliced stems can add to a salsa verde or regular tomato salsa.
For fresh oregano or marjoram, I find a little goes a long way. I stem these herbs and drop them in a little olive oil to keep them in the fridge for longer periods and use them, little by little as needed. Lastly, for storing herbs in general, you can wrap them in a damp towel or put them in a container with a little water, like flowers, until ready to use them.
The key is to keep the herbs from drying out. Makes for tasty food!
Courtesy Alex Guarnaschelli
2 cups flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. granulated sugar
Scant ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Bring a medium pot of water to a rolling boil. Add kosher salt until the water tastes like “sea water” and stir to blend. Add the parsley and cook for 1 minute and then remove the parsley with a slotted spoon. Immediately plunge them into an ice bath and allow to cool, 3–5 minutes. Drain the leaves slightly and place them on flat surface. Use a sharp knife to chop the parsley and then put them in the food processor with the garlic, sugar, chili flakes and olive oil. “Pulse” to blend. You can leave slightly chunky or blend until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add a splash of water to facilitate blending.