The mental and emotional thaw after a long, hard winter is always a relief, though it isn’t without its intricacies. Mainly, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by so much possibility — a broadening social calendar, more time to spend outside, ladder season. Even when you haven’t spent an entire year in some form of isolation, it can be easy to spread yourself too thin.
Still, with the buds turning green on the trees, the forsythia popping, our seeds beginning to sprout, the season inspires feasting. Right now, I want grilled meats, and green vegetables, and zippy new salad dressings. I want citrusy cocktails, and tarts with fresh berries, and green garlic in absolutely everything.
What I have for you today is a gift from your current self to your future self, a way to give yourself a leg up on all there is to do. What I have for you is herb butter.
This is one of those tricks of the kitchen that is actually mind-numbingly simple, but packs a punch far, far above its weight. Essentially, what you are going to do is preserve a bunch of fresh, green, beautiful herbs in good salted butter. You’ll make it now for tomorrow, or the next day, or even a month from now, when you’ve worn yourself out but still want to eat something very special.
You’ll want to use the best butter you can buy — salted, so that you don’t have to worry about getting salt crystals to mix completely into it. You can use any combination of herbs you like for this. I like flat-leaf parsley, dill, and lots of tarragon. When I made this most recent batch, I also added a few sprigs of cilantro from a pot I’ve been gently coaxing into continued existence on the windowsill all winter long.
You may be tempted to use a food processor here. I love mine very much, but I think it’s too rough on tender herbs like these. It makes them a little soggy, and we want them to retain their integrity. I rinse the herbs for this butter very, very well (dill especially loves to hold onto grit), and then dry them diligently with a clean kitchen towel. Chop the herbs to your liking with a sharp knife and add them to — and this is really the only unbreakable rule about compound butters — completely softened butter. Anything less than completely softened butter will be a frustrating lumpy mess to mix together. Don’t do this to yourself.
Once your butter has been thoroughly mixed and chilled, you can use it for just about anything you want to butter and baste with herbaceousness. Spread it on good bread. Stir it into risotto at the last minute. Lately, my favorite destination for a big dallop of herb butter is a simple combination of tender blanched asparagus and tiny spring peas.
Bring a pot of salted water to boil and blanch your asparagus for two or three minutes, until it’s bright green and tender to bite through. Peas can go in for a minute longer, then shock the whole bunch in ice water. This does double-duty: it stops the cooking, and also keeps your vegetables at their absolute greenest once you reheat them.
Maybe you, like me, will think to yourself that a big pot of salted, simmering water is a terrible thing to waste, and you’ll poach an egg in it to put on top of your vegetables when they’re ready. “Look at me,” you might think, “giving myself a leg up.”
Then, when you’re ready, just melt a good chunk of herb butter in a big pan and toss in your blanched vegetables to warm them through, coating them with the gift you gave yourself last week.
You’ll have saved so much time by making this herb butter in advance that you’ll be able to weed the garden, meet a friend for a drink outside, or get out the ladder and get to work.
½ lb. salted butter, at room temperature
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
1 bunch dill
1 bunch tarragon
Wash your herbs well and dry thoroughly. Then finely chop them with a sharp knife. Use a fork to combine with the softened butter until thoroughly mixed.
Using a piece of plastic wrap, roll your butter into a log, twisting the ends to seal. Let chill in the fridge for at least an hour before using. Will keep in the freezer for a few months, though it never lasts that long.