By Chef Judi Gallagher –
Herb growing is so popular that I routinely see fresh herbs flourishing at residences in my town in big beautiful containers that display a mix of herbs or I see them in raised beds, in little pots on window sills and in big serious gardens that are carefully segmented for those herbs that need shade and for those that require sun. Restaurants too are keeping kitchen herb gardens and some of their container gardens are part of the restaurant decor.
For me there’s nothing better than finishing a dish I’ve prepared with a sprinkle of fresh herbs, whether it’s a light rain of parsley, a chiffonade of basil or a snip of chives. That final garnish adds an extra layer of flavor and makes the dish look finished and professional. And we all know that fresh herbs smell amazing. Herbs are healthy and even healing. Herbs, you have to love them. And all cooks do.
Most herbs – even those that used to be considered exotic – are now readily available at major supermarkets; at any given time, I have several packets in my fridge. But lately, I’ve discovered that growing my own herb garden at home, with herbs that I’ve picked up from my local farmer’s market, is incredibly easy and rewarding.
Light, water and drainage are crucial to growing herbs successfully, of course. Make sure they get at least six hours of sunlight a day, and keep them in a temperate (mildly cool to warm) climate. A certain amount of humidity is good for herbs, so the kitchen or even the bathroom is a great place to keep them. Don’t over water your herbs or they’ll drown; keep the soil moist and make sure there’s plenty of drainage in whatever planter you choose to grow your herbs. Should your herbs become infested with insects, give them a soapy bath. And finally, harvest your plants often – even daily – so it will grow back abundantly.
If you have more herbs than you can use, you can dry them by heating them in the microwave for a couple of minutes and rub them together so they crumble between your fingers, creating your own dried herb. Alternatively – and this is one of my favorite herb storage methods – you can chop your herbs, coat them in olive oil and then freeze them in ice cube trays. Just pop the whole cube into whatever recipe you’re making as needed.
So that’s a little “Herbs 101” for you. Here are three of my favorite herb-centric recipes for you to try. The last one is quite unusual and would be a topic of conversation at your table. Tell me, what’s your favorite way to use herbs?
3 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1 cup loosely packed fresh arugula
½ cup grated pecorino Romano cheese
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, peeled
½ tsp. grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons lukewarm water
Place ½ cup oil and basil, arugula, cheese, pine nuts, garlic and lemon peel in a food processor. Process to thick paste. With motor running, add remaining ¼ cup oil and 2 tablespoons water to processor and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Melon and Nectarine Soup
1 ripe cantaloupe
juice of 1 orange
sugar to taste
salt to taste
1-2 drops Tabasco sauce
dash balsamic or sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint
extra springs of mint for garnish
Halve the melon and discard seeds. Scoop the flesh into a food processor. Wash and dry the nectarines and slice the fruit into the processor. Add the juice of an orange and process until pureed. Season to taste with sugar, salt and Tabasco. Then add the vinegar and chopped mint. Chill the soup for 30 minutes. Serve in chilled shallow bowls or in big wine glasses. Garnish with springs of mint.
Stuffed Nasturtium Leaves
(Recipes From a French Herb Garden by Geraldene Holt)
24-30 nasturtium leaves
1 teaspoon capers, rinsed and chopped
1 small pickled gherkin, finely chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon finely chopped chervil
1 tin of anchovy fillets
¼ pint dry white wine
1 tablespoon herb vinegar
a sprig of thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons olive oil
Cut stems from the nasturtium leaves. Mix the capers, gherkin, parsley and chervil together. Cut the anchovy fillets into narrow strips, allowing one strip for each leaf. Place a little of the herb mixture in the center of each leaf and cover with a strip of anchovy. Fold in the sides of the leaf and then roll up like a cigar with the seam underneath. Arrange the stuffed leaves in a shallow pan and pour over the wine and the vinegar. Add the thyme and bay leaf and simmer very gently over low heat or in a slow over (300-degrees) for 10-15 minutes. Transfer the stuffed leaves to a serving dish. Reduce the wine remaining in the pan over high heat until there are about 2 tablespoons left. Discard the thyme and bay leaf and mix with the olive oil. Pour the dressing over the nasturtium leaves and chill until ready to serve.
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