I was a little busy with work and travel for about four weeks right in the middle of summer. While I was distracted, my garden certainly didn't slow up, especially my herb garden and all that mint.
Mint is one of those plants you definitely need to keep a close eye on. If you've ever grown it, you know how voracious a grower it can be. It will literally take over the plot it's growing in during the course of a couple months.
So, after several weeks of neglect, I took some time to prune the plants back last weekend. Other than an "air freshener" for my compost bin, what can you do with a huge pile those mint cuttings? I hated to just throw it out, and Jeremy and I can only drink so many juleps.
Two easy ways to use up a lot of mint are pesto and tea. Both require several cups of mint leaves.
Both traditional pesto, made with basil, and mint pesto freeze beautifully. It's a nice way to bring a taste of spring and summer to dishes once fresh herbs have long faded. I've recently enjoyed mint pesto on roasted spaghetti squash with some frozen peas mixed in. I have tried basil pesto on spaghetti squash before, and I think I actually like the mint better. The flavor of mint pesto is less spicy and more light and bright, and is a nice contrast with the starchy spaghetti squash. Peas and mint practically go hand in hand since the mint brings out the sweetness of the peas, and the peas soften the brace of mint a little. I've also put mint pesto on pizza with ham and mozzarella, too, which was great. With mint pesto, the possibilities are practically endless. Here's the recipe that I use, adapted from Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home.
2 cups of packed mint leaves
1/4 cup of shredded parmesean
kosher salt to taste (start with about 1 tsp)
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus more as needed)
Place mint leaves, salt, parmesean cheese and almonds in a food processor and pulse until everything is chopped finely and evenly. Add about 1/4 cup olive oil and pulse again. Add more olive oil until mixture comes to a paste, or desired consistency. Taste and add more salt or parmesean if needed. Yield: about 1/2 cup
I've added garlic to this recipe in the past, before adding the olive oil, but I think I like it better without. Also, if you're going to freeze it, it may get a little dry when you thaw it back out. I usually add a little more olive oil and stir it well when I thaw it.
I'm a huge fan of tea in the winter. Actually, I'm a huge fan of tea all the time. But especially in the winter. Mint tea is one of my favorite teas for replacing coffee because it seems like it wakes you up a bit without the caffeine. And it's very soothing for sipping by the fire in the evening--also, without the caffeine. I've never tried to make it before, though, but even after making pesto, I still had a huge pile of mint cuttings, so I thought it was worth a try.
The last time I'd cut back my mint, I had laid it in my garage on newspaper to dry out so that I could experiment with it. I "googled" making mint tea and found a few quick articles. Basically, you can make the tea from fresh mint leaves or dried by just pouring hot water over either one. Since I wanted to preserve it, I opted for the dried. I gathered my dried mint from the garage, and replaced it with the new cuttings I had from that day.
I picked all the leaves off the stems and put them in a big bowl. I crushed them up with my hands fairly easily, but I decided I wanted them crushed more finely. I have two different kinds of mint, spearmint and peppermint. The spearmint has bigger veins in the leaves, and by crushing the leaves in a mortar and pestle, I was able to pick out most of those veins. I don't think it hurts to leave them in, but I was just being particular about my tea. I stored it in a tin. In a few weeks, I'll crush the leaves that I picked and make more. I'll probably keep doing this until the plants die off for the season. I was kinda picky about the leaves, and I didn't use any that had brown spots on them.
Since this worked so easily, I'm thinking of making tea out of my bee balm. Now, all I need is a tea infuser.