FRESH IS BIG in the world of food. And food doesn’t get much fresher than herbs you pick from your own window box or patio garden.
Telling you how to grow them is above my pay grade. For that, you can get with Bill Doty of Doty Farm & Garden Supply. His lawn and garden column also is featured on this website.
But once they are in your hot little hand, they become my job. And a tasty one it is.
BASIL is one of my favorites because you can do so much with it. I might have mentioned this simple recipe for part of an appetizer platter before, but it’s worth repeating. Harvest large basil leaves, three or four per person and a few sprigs for garnish. Wash and pat dry. Shave thin slices off parmesan cheese with a vegetable peeler. Arrange the leaves on a platter. Top each with a shaving of cheese. Drizzle the cheese with a little Balsamic vinegar — the best you can afford. Finish the platter with olives, bars or wedges of cheeses, salami, horns of prosciutto, small tomatoes, and basil sprigs.
Macaroni and cheese, even the kind in a blue box, takes on new life with some chopped parsley. And speaking of PARSLEY … if you get a chance, buy a bunch of curly parsley and one of flat leaf and taste each before you decide what to plant. The name’s the same, but that’s where the similarity ends.
PESTO is a strong Italian herb sauce usually made with basil, garlic, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil. It takes minutes in a food processor. But pine nuts cost a fortune and most available for us to buy are from China. Use walnuts, sunflower seeds, cashews, a few Brazil nuts, or pecans instead.
ALMOST-INSTANT PESTO SAUCE
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
2 garlic cloves
1/3 cup pine nuts or other nuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
Put everything in a processor or blender and whirr until it’s smooth. Store in the fridge where it will keep for at least a week. Dollop on hot, cooked pasta and toss. It also makes a great spread for crusty bread before adding chopped tomatoes and more herbs for a crunchy appetizer.
Now, try the same recipe with some CILANTRO. Add parsley to make the basil flavor lighter. Add OREGANO for a bit more bite. Experiment with different herbs from the patio or garden. A school I went to many moons ago must have had a few SAGE plants out the back. They did a super kebab of pork loin with each piece separated by a sage leaf.
Eggs and herbs just go together. Eggs are relatively inexpensive compared to ground beef and easy to cook. My mother used to tell me that when times were tough before I came around she and my dad used to have a lot of eggs and fried potatoes. I must have gotten to like it as a boy because my wife and I still have that about once a week, with a couple of vegetables. It’s herbs that make the difference.
Parsley, both kinds, chives, chervil, and tarragon are the fab four for eggs. Bringing up the rear can be basil, oregano, dill, marjoram, summer savory, and thyme. If you have others, there is nothing to stop you from adding some. After all, it’s your herbs and your eggs.
MINT comes in many flavors and each is special and will try to take over your garden, if you let it. Mint is perfect for container gardening.
Word association for mint has to be julep. Or Christmas candy. Or Peppermint cake for the holidays. We don’t often associate mint and meat unless it’s a Middle Eastern dish— usually lamb, but beef is okay. Mix two tablespoons minced mint with a pound of ground beef then add your usual flavors. It makes four burgers.
article by TRENT ROWE, CFAN Food Editor