Creating decorative bottles or jars of flavored oil and vinegar can take a couple of afternoons, but it is well worth the effort. Give these treasures as gifts, or display them on your own kitchen shelf. When they're not spicing up your decor, flavored oils and vinegars bring Italian pastas, soups, stews and salads to life. Potential herb and flavor combinations include rosemary and thyme, shallots and peppercorns, basil and sundried tomatoes, or red peppers and olives with oregano.
What you will need:
Sterilizing glass bottles and jars
You will need a large bottle or demijohn for mixing and steeping oil and vinegar, as well as small decorative bottles and jars for decanting into. Sterilize each just before you use it. Wash bottles, jars and demijohns with warm soapy water, using a bottle brush to ensure you get into all the corners. Rinse thoroughly, and dry on a clean cloth or paper towel.
While the glass is still warm from the water, submerge in or fill with boiling water, or use a sterilizing solution. Never submerge in or fill cold glass with boiling water, as it might shatter. Use tongs to handle small, decorative bottles submerged in water and oven mitts to handle bottles filled with boiling water. Allow the water to stand for 10 minutes, then drain upside-down and allow to air dry.
Gently heat the oil or vinegar to 140 degrees F. in a large pan over a low flame. Place herbs on a cutting board, and roll over them with a rolling pin to bruise them. Turn off the heat, and add the herbs and other flavorings to the oil or vinegar. A good balance is one cup of mixed flavorings to each quart of oil or vinegar. Allow the oil or vinegar to cool to room temperature.
Using a funnel, decant oil or vinegar and flavorings into large bottles or demijohns, and store them in a refrigerator or cool cellar below 40 degrees F. Leave oils to steep for two to three days and vinegar for two weeks to one month. This allows the flavors of the herbs and vegetables to blend with the oil or vinegar.
Transfer steeped oil or vinegar to smaller decorative bottles or jars. Sterilize the glass containers just before you decant, and allow the glass to cool and air dry. Add fresh herbs to the bottles. Whether you chose to add just a sprig or two of herbs or to layer them up in decorative patterns is up to you. Use a funnel and strainer to decant the oil or vinegar into the bottles; you don't want the steeped herbs and vegetables in there. Seal bottles with corks or stoppers and jars with screw-top lids to create an airtight seal.
Steeped oils should last for up to one month in the fridge, while vinegars prepared this way will last for up to six months provided you keep them chilled. One word of warning: if you plan to use the oil for cooking, don't add garlic. Garlic-in-oil mixtures create an oxygen-free environment that supports the growth of Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium that causes botulism. According to government guidelines, you should make garlic-in-oil fresh and not store it for more than two to three days.
Tie decorative twine around the bottle neck, and use it to attach a label. Whether you intend to keep the oil or vinegar for your own use or give it as a gift, ensure the label includes the date it was bottled, the ingredients used, and the date up to which it can be used for cooking if kept refrigerated. If the product contains garlic and is intended for display only, make this clear on the label.