As will be the case with many of you, at the moment my thoughts revolve around the two main questions: which Christmas dishes will I be serving in ten days and do I have nice gifts for everyone involved?
I love homemade gifts, to give and to receive. One issue which regularly gets in the way of my artisan giving, though, is my almost impeccable planning.That book, which would be the perfect gift for my mother or sis-in-law, but has a three-week delivery time, while the birthday’s already in three days. Those little Christmas puddings, which I should have started preparing two weeks ago in order for them to be full-flavoured at Christmas Eve. I usually get my best ideas at the last moment and that’s not always in time. On every festive occasion I settle for giving another present, I tell myself it’s the intention that counts….
The same goes for homemade herb-infused oil. The first times I wanted to make this for a gift, I read in books and blogs how simple it was: just tip herbs and oil into a bottle, leave to infuse for three weeks et voilà! Well, most of the time I didn’t have those three weeks until the festive date. And it’s just so much nicer to be able to say “here you are, I hope you’ll like it!” than it is to say “here you are. You’ll have to leave it in the cupboard for the next three weeks. So no, you can’t use it in your holiday cooking yet and if I were you, I wouldn’t serve it with your New Year’s Eve canapés either.”
When this subject came up at our local deli once, it turned out they had such a simple solution for this, I was surprised I hadn’t stumbled upon it before. As they told me, the way they make the herb oil they sell in their store, is by gently warming the oil with the herbs in it. Just leave it to infuse for an hour or so while still warm, then strain and the oil will be so fragrant and flavoursome you’ll want to and can use it immediately.
Last year I tried this method for a foodie birthday gift to Maaike and now, with Christmas in sight, my house is filled with the lovely scent of thyme again. I chose thyme as the main flavour, just because I’m very fond of it, but you can of course flavour the oil with the ingredients you like best: rosemary, chili, lemon peel… It’s guaranteed to please pasta lovers, but it’s also lovely with drinks or as a simple starter, to be served with crusty bread.
So to everyone who likes to give homemade gifts and just discovered that Christmas is approaching faster than expected: here you are, I hope you’ll like it!
Homemade thyme-infused oil – makes one 200 ml bottle
- 250 ml olive oil
- 15 g thyme sprigs, rinsed and carefully patted dry, to make sure you don’t take any water into the oil
- extra herb sprigs for decoration
- plus: a sterilised, resealable 200 ml bottle and, optional, just to make pouring easier, a funnel
How flavoursome the herb oil will turn out largely depends on the quality of the olive oil you use for it, so go for the nicest one you can find! I chose a biological Tuscan oil from our deli.
Depending on the amount of oil you’d like to make, you can of course easily multiply the quantities. I accounted for some loss of oil due to the straining and pouring; in larger quantities this will be less.
Pour the oil into a pan. Pick the leaves off the sprigs and add to the oil. Place the pan on a very low heat and very gently warm the oil. You don’t want it to cook, as this will affect the flavour, so just turn off the heat if things appear to go too fast.
Leave the oil to infuse for about an hour while warm, then leave to cool with the herbs still in it. When completely cooled down, strain the oil through a sieve with a piece of kitchen paper in it to remove the leaves.
Put a nice-looking thyme sprig into the bottle, then, using the funnel, pour over the oil. The sprig will start floating at first, but will soon sink to the bottom. Close the bottle, attach a label and give it as a gift to a loved one, or, for that matter, to yourself!
Store in a cool, dark place. Maaike’s oil kept for longer, but to be on the safe side I’ll stick to the regular shelf life of one to three months. Remove the thyme sprig when it’s no longer completely covered with oil.