A Fresh Herb Manifesto
Practical Tips and Historical Lore
"Quite simply, fresh herbs are best," authors Maggie Oster and Sal Gilbertie assert in the first sentence of the introduction to the book. "Yes, dried, frozen, or otherwise preserved herbs are better than none at all. But once you become attuned to the flavor of fresh-from-the-garden herbs, nothing else seems quite the same."
What follows is a thorough guide to cultivating, preserving and cooking with more than four dozen common herbs. Along with 150 recipes, the book is chock full of practical tips and historical lore.
Herbal Tips and Lore
uAn all-purpose "herbal rule of thumb," the authors write, is this: "When in doubt, use thyme." It is most commonly used as a stewing herb, but a more offbeat suggestion was inspired by the most highly prized honey of ancient Greece, made by bees that swarmed over the thyme meadows of Mount Hymettus. You can make your own version of this legendary concoction by steeping thyme in store-bought honey.uRoman soldiers bathed in thyme to boost their courage. Others have sworn that it prevents nightmares, repels moths and is an excellent conditioner for dark hair. uPineapple sage "is rapidly becoming a favorite among herb lovers, adored for its pineapple-scented-and-flavored leaves." It "can only be used fresh," the authors assert, though its essence can be captured in an herbal vinegar, butter or sugar. uStudents in ancient Greece wore sprigs of rosemary around their necks during exams to improve their memory.
uThe resinous flavor of rosemary make it a natural with lamb, poultry or pork.
uSavory was said to be such a powerful aphrodisiac that monks in medieval Italy were prohibited from growing it.
uThe flavor of delicate herbs such as chervil and lemon balm is lost when cooked for more than a few minutes, so add them at the last minute or dont cook them at all.
uIn the "dont try this at home" department, consider this bit of wisdom from ancient Greece: rub lemon balm on a hive of riled-up bees to calm them down.
uMost herbs are at their peak of flavorful perfection just before they begin to flower. The best time to harvest them is in the morning just after the dew has dried.
The authors of The Herbal Palate Cookbook are both avid gardeners. Sal Gilbertie operates a retail garden center and grows more than 400 herbs for the wholesale market. Maggie Oster, who grew up on a farm, now lives in New York City where she has had to perfect the art of container gardening.
Their personal bias is clear: for the freshest herbs, grow them yourself. They offer pointers on indoor cultivation to help you extend the season. Yet try as you might, you wont have fresh herbs at your disposal year-round, the authors acknowledge.
So they offer a number of suggestions on how to preserve the herb harvest.
The simplest way to freeze herbs is to blanch them, dip them in ice water, pat them dry and freeze them on a cookie sheet. Or you can puree the herbs with a small amount of water and freeze the pulp in ice cube trays.
Dry herbs for one day then layer the leaves with either granulated or powdered sugar in an air-tight jar.
As for which herbs to use in making butter, the authors suggest, "Experiment with them all, even with herb seeds and edible flowers."
To crystalize, beat an egg white at room temperature until it is frothy. Using a clean artists brush, paint all sides of the leaves or flowers with the egg mixture.
Immediately sprinkle the sticky leaves or flowers with superfine sugar, place them on a cake rack or screen set over a baking sheet and leave them to dry in a cool, dry place.
Here's a recipe from the book that makes
use of a pile of fresh herbs.
2 Tbs unsalted butter
1. In a large saucepan, heat the butter and oil over medium heat and stir in onions. Cook for about 8 minutes, or until onions are soft, stirring occasionally.
2. Sprinkle flour over the top and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Stir in stock or broth and wine and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, chives, burnet and thyme. Cool to lukewarm.
3. In a blender, puree soup in batches until very smooth. Whisk in sour cream, salt, and pepper. Refrigerate in a covered container for at least 4 hours but not more than 24. Just before serving, stir in vinegar or lemon juice, cream and minced fresh herbs or edible flowers.
Copyright 2005 Seasonal Chef