cooking with fresh local herbs

Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Cooking With Fresh, Local Herbs
Written and posted by Molly Davis

Fresh herbs can fetch a pretty steep price at the grocery store, and that’s not the only downside. They’re also not likely to have been grown organically, they come with as much packaging as they do flavor, and they traveled long distances to reach my plate. Those tiny bunches carry a big environmental footprint.

So one of my favorite things about having a share in the Neighborhood Farm Initiative has been the abundance of fresh herbs in my weekly sack of goodies. The NFI garden has seen an explosion in delicious basil, mint, chives and other herbs this summer, so much so that I’ve struggled to use them all before the next bag comes.

But having a small party is a great excuse to cook up some finger foods that incorporate all the most brilliant tastes of summer, as I discovered when some of my good friends recently got engaged. I’m spoiled now! After having big, glorious fountains of herbs straight from the farm, I’ll never be able to work within the confines of those 1oz. grocery store packages again.

First, we made a mint julip punch. It was basically one big mint julep — a punch bowl of freshly mottled mint floating in bourbon, simple syrup, and ice. Make the syrup by heating equal parts sugar and water over the stove until the sugar dissolves. Mix in syrup until you like the way it tastes. Watch out, this is strong!

Fresh picked Basil and Cherry Tomato’s included in a
typical NFI Community Supported Garden Share

The following are my recipes for a relatively easy and colorful party menu. Enjoy!

Individual apricot cheesecakes

Make these first because they need the longest time to cool. For both the cheesecakes and the spinach tarts, it’s extremely helpful to have a mini-muffin pan.

For the filling, mix 24 oz. cream cheese, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tbsp cornstarch, 1 tsp vanilla, and mix until it’s fluffy. Add two eggs and two egg yolks, and mix until combined. Add 1/4 cup heavy cream and 1 can of apricot pie filling and mix again.

You can make your own pastry (this can be painful) or use the crescent roll dough that comes in cans at the store. Unroll the dough and cut into squares. Flatten them (your fingers work fine for this) and press down into the muffin pan to make the individual crusts. Fill each one almost up to the top with cheesecake batter. Cook at 375 degrees for 10 minutes.

Press a piece of a pecan into the top of each personal cheesecake. Cool in the fridge for at least four hours. Garnish the serving tray with sprigs of mint.

Spinach mini-tarts

Follow the same pastry instructions, but allow the dough to cook in the muffin pan for minutes before adding the filling. Again, 375 degrees.

The filling for this recipe is less exact. Add more cream if you want it creamier. Add more spinach otherwise. Add or remove ingredients depending on what you’ve got in your fridge. It’s going to taste good no matter what.

Chop up a bunch of fresh spinach and chives. Grate a good melting cheese of your choice, and add a little parmesan to the mix if you have it. Add some of your leftover heavy cream from the cheesecake recipe and some whole milk. Add salt and freshly ground pepper.

After cooking the pastry initially, pull out the pan and fill the cups. Press as much filling down into the cups as possible. Don’t be afraid to pack it in. The spinach will cook down, but the top will be a gorgeous skin of melted cheese and crispy, toasted greens. Place the muffin pan back in the oven and cook for five more minutes.

For an optional spicy kick, I diced a spicy pepper and mixed it with apple cidar vinegar and a little salt and pepper and let people spoon it onto the tarts themselves from a bowl.


Make the tomato mixture early and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours if possible. Just chop a bunch of tomatoes and basil and mix with olive oil, salt, and fresh pepper.

Slice a baguette and broil the slices for two minutes on each side. Plate the toast and spread the raw tomato mixture across it.

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