Do you make a menu plan for your weekly dinners, or wing it every night depending on what you feel like eating?
I’ll definitely admit to some
last minute spontaneous dinner decisions, depending on what I found in season/on special at the market, or if something tasty has caught my eye on a food blog or Pinterest. I like doing my grocery shopping in small daily doses rather than one big weekly shop. But that can sometimes mean I’m sometimes left with half bunches of herbs and various lone vegetables by the end of the week.
Food waste is a huge problem these days with Aussie households throwing away $8 billion worth of food every year. That number is incredibly alarming, but could be so easily turned around if we all shopped a little more thoughtfully and made better use of our leftovers. And it will save you money too! Herbs are the one thing I find myself throwing out most often. I’ve put together some tips for how to store them, use them and preserve them below.
1. Store them properly.
The first step to maximising the life of your fresh herbs is storing them properly to avoid prematurely wilted leaves. This can differ between the kinds of herbs. This article from Taste has some great tips.
2. Make pesto.
Any leafy green herbs you have lying around will work including basil, parsley, coriander and mint. Even spinach, kale and rocket leaves are great here. Whiz in the food processor with some olive oil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Serve with pasta or freeze for later.
3. Make herb butter.
I absolutely love this idea! Soften some salted butter and mix in almost any kind of chopped herbs (or a mixture). This is a delicious and practical way to extend their life by a few weeks.
4. Add to a drink.
Parsley and mint are delicious and good for you in green smoothies and juices. A few basil or mint leaves in some iced water is wonderfully refreshing. You can get really creative with herbs in cocktails and cordials. Basil and berry mojitos, a coriander mule, rosemary simple syrup or the classic mint julep, just to name a few.
5. Freeze them in olive oil.
This is a great little tip from The Kitchn that prevents them from turning brown in the freezer and infuses the oil with a great flavour that will carry through into your cooking. Note: this works best with ‘hard herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme, and oregano.
6. Dry them.
Almost all herbs can be dried for use later. This article has lots of great tips and step by step photos of several ways to dry herbs – from in the sunshine to in the oven.
7. Grow your own.
If you have some space in your garden or on your balcony, consider planting a few herbs. Most are really easy to grow in pots. When you only cut what you are about to use, you’ll have fresh herbs all the time and no waste. If you grow coriander, you can also use the seeds in cooking. They’re lovely lightly toasted in a pan and added to soups and stocks or pounded in a mortar and pestle and added to curries.
I had an enormous bunch of silverbeet (99c!) plus a few half bunches of herbs and some rocket in the fridge when I stumbled across this recipe. It came from one of my favourite cookbooks, Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi. You can easily substitute some of the greens, herbs and even cheeses for whatever you have available. In keeping with the theme of not wasting food, I also loved that the Herb Pie recipe used both the leaves and the stems of the spinach. It gave a really interesting flavour and more hearty texture.
After years and years of hating ricotta, I think I can safely say I’m now a fan. It goes so well with spinach and pastry, as most people have known forever. This pie reminded me of a cross between a Turkish burek and a Green spanakopita – both things I now love!!
Here are a few ways to mix it up…
- Chicken or pork mince can be fried with the onions before moving on with the recipe as below.
- Try kale or swiss chard instead of spinach
- Experiment with different herbs, depending on what you have left in the fridge. Dill or coriander would also work wonderfully.
- Add some toasted pine nuts for a little bit of crunch
- You could try using a good quality butter puff pastry instead of the filo
- It’s perfect the next day for lunch, or on a picnic, and delicious served at room temperature
Spinach, Ricotta and Fetta Herb Pie
My take on Yotam Ottolenghi’s delicious Spinach Ricotta and Fetta Herb Pie, plus 7 ways to use up leftover herbs, which are often a source of food waste.
- Olive oil (or herbed oil)
- 1 1/2 large onions
- 600 g spinach, washed thoroughly, stems cut out, leaves and stems chopped separately
- 200 g celery
- 50 g rocket/arugula leaves
- 40 g flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 30 g mint, chopped
- 150 g ricotta, crumbled
- 150 g aged cheddar, grated
- 150 g fetta, crumbled
- Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 3 large eggs
- Salt & ground pepper
- 10 sheets filo pastry
Place 2 tablespoons olive oil into a large, deep frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add the spinach stems and celery. Cook for a further 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally until softened. Depending on the size of your frypan, you may need to transfer this mixture into a bowl and cook the spinach leaves separately.
Add spinach leaves and stir as you cook, for about 5 minutes until the leaves wilt. Add rocket, parsley and mint, and return the onion/celery mixture to the pan. Cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a colander to cool.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Once the spinach is cool, transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the three cheeses, lemon zest and juice, eggs, salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
Lay out a sheet of fill pastry and brush with olive oil. Cover with another sheet and continue in the same manner until you have 5 layers. Line the bottom and sides of a 22cm pie dish with enough pastry, allowing some to overhang the rim. Fill with spinach mixture.
Make another set of 5 filo layers brushed with oil and place them over the top of the pie. Fold over the overhanging edges to enclose. Brush generously with olive oil and bake for 40 minutes, or until the pastry turns a nice golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi