Grow and Create Your Own Italian Seasoning Blend16. September 2019
We’re thrilled to have a new guest blogger, Amy Prentice. Amy is a marketing manager whose first love is gardening and nature photography. She gardens in a small suburban backyard in Northeastern Oklahoma (AKA Green Country). Her favorite things to grow and preserve are herbs and peppers. Her dog, Scarecrow, loves to help out in the garden by stalking bunnies and eating as many tomatoes as she can get away with. Follow Amy on Instagram.
If you’re like me, you always have a jar of Italian seasoning in your pantry. I reach for it anytime I am making spaghetti, tomato soup, pizza, homemade meatballs, or any other dish that needs an Italian flavor infusion. Several years ago as I was adding more and more herbs to my garden, I decided to start dehydrating and preserving them to cook with in the winter. It dawned on me that I was growing all of the herbs used in an Italian seasoning blend. So I grabbed my dried basil and oregano and a few other herbs and started mixing. What a difference in flavor from the store bought blends!
I use a combination of several herbs to make my Italian seasoning, but don’t worry if you don’t have all of these in your garden. There have been times that all I used for my Italian seasoning was basil and oregano because the other herbs didn’t do well or I didn’t plant them that year. For example, I just discovered marjoram two years ago, and I forgot to replant it this year after the frost killed all my marjoram plants last winter.
Herbs to Grow for Italian Seasoning:
Basil (Genovese or a similar flavored variety)
Oregano (I have used Greek and Italian, and sometimes I add both.)
Other things you can add:
Garlic (You can slice your garlic cloves very thin and dehydrate. Add dried garlic to the herbal blend in small pieces or as a powder.)
Pepper Flakes (If you want to add a kick of spice, dehydrate and blend some red peppers into flakes to add to the mix.)
You can also include salt for added texture and flavor, but I rarely do. I let the herbs and spices do all the talking. Think of other herbs you might like in there, or exclude any you may not like or don’t have access to. I started out by reading the back of the Italian seasoning bottle I got at the store and tried to copy it. I just went from there and got creative. You can add as much or as little of the herbs in any ratio that tastes good to you. I found that more oregano gives it more of that pizza-y Italian flavor. Marjoram has such a unique, almost floral taste, I keep it to a minimum so it doesn’t throw off the flavor. Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs, but I keep it to a minimum in this blend too because it can definitely steal the show. Thyme comes in so many different varieties. Try lemon thyme to add a citrus flavor. Of course basil is a must. I have used Genovese and Large Leaf Italian. Occasionally I might throw in some lemon basil too. The fun part is experimenting and seeing what you come up with that works best for your recipes.
These herbs are all really easy to grow, and growing your own is much cheaper than buying fresh herbs at the store. You may already grow most or all of these, but if not, you just need a sunny patch of soil. I've had success growing all of these in pots on a sunny patio too. Just be sure to pay attention to the soil moisture in pots since containers tend to dry out faster. Also, check the tag to make sure they are ok to be in full sun all day or if partial sun would be best. Depending on your growing zone, some or all of these herbs may need to just be planted once and then will come back every year. Where I garden in zone 7a, the frost kills my basil and marjoram, but everything else on this list comes back almost every year.
Here are my steps to making my own herbal Italian seasoning.
Step 1: Harvest
Once you have healthy, established plants with plenty of foliage to spare, it’s time to harvest. I cut the top 1/3 off the plant and leave the leaves on the stems. If possible, harvest your herbs first thing in the morning when the leaves are full of flavor rather than in the evening after they've been stressed by heat all day. I wash the herbs under cold water or submerge in a bowl of water to remove dirt and any bugs that may be on the plant. Lay them flat and pat dry with a paper towel.
Step 2: Dehydrate
There are a few ways to dehydrate herbs. One method is to tie the herbs together in small bundles and hang them up in a well ventilated room out of direct sunlight. You can also use herb drying racks or hanging screens. Different herbs will dehydrate faster than others. Some require just a few days of hanging and others need a week or more to get completely dry. A dehydrator also works very well and dehydrates the herbs quickly, but it can be an investment. Before I bought my Excalibur dehydrator, I used my oven on the lowest temperature if I wanted to dry herbs out fast, but you have to really watch them so they don't burn or get too dry and lose their flavor.
Step 3: Create Your Herb Blend
Once the herbs are crispy and can be crumbled, strip the leaves from the stems, collecting them in a bowl. You can separate each herb into labeled jars so you know what you're working with, but you might find that you can identify them based on sight and scent alone. If storing each herb separately long term, it's always a good idea to label the containers. Now the fun part begins: blending the herbs into your own unique, customized seasoning. When you're ready to make your blend, combine them together in a large mixing bowl adding in the different herbs in whatever ratio you prefer. I start with basil and oregano in equal parts and then add in the others in smaller amounts. This is where you can start to experiment. To blend them together, you can use a mortar and pestle, blender, food processor, or a spice grinder. I try not to process them too much or they turn to powder, and I like bigger pieces of the leaves. Dried herbs retain more of their flavor the more whole the leaves are.
Step 4: Storing Your Herb Blend
After blending the herbs together, I store the finished blend in small spice jars. You can find cute herb and spice jars at craft stores or home decor stores. Many times, I just use a small recycled glass container. Glass jars from the grocery store that contained olives, pesto or store-bought herbs work great and give a unique look. Ball also makes a super cute mini storage jar perfect for spices. The finishing touch is a nice label. Be sure to label what's in the jar and add the year if you want to keep track of the age of the herbs. My personal favorites are the Vintage Herb & Spice Labels and the Vintage Whimsical Label.
It’s very rewarding to grow your own herbs and create your own spice blends. Italian seasoning is a great one to start with since herbs like basil and oregano are some of the easiest to grow. I use garden grown herb blends all year round in my cooking, but especially when the weather is cold, the garden has been put to bed, and I'm missing the flavor of fresh garden herbs. Herbal blends also make great gifts for friends and family who love to cook and get creative in the kitchen. I love when my sister texts me photos of a yummy meal she created with some of the dried herb blends I gave her. If you preserve your own tomato sauce, a jar of homemade tomato sauce and a garden grown Italian seasoning blend makes a wonderful holiday or hostess gift.
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