Tell her to find me an acre of land
(A sprinkling of leaves)
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thymeSimon & Garfunkel: “Scarborough Fair“
I always grow herbs on my windowsill, it is a very Italian thing to do. This year because of the Quarantine even more time was dedicated to the planting of herbs. It was actually nice to see them growing. They gave me a sense of hope!
Growing aromatic herbs at home is very simple: in fact, a windowsill (even better a balcony) and a few small precautions are enough to obtain a decidedly satisfactory harvest. But once we have lovingly treated them, how can we make good use of them? Of course, in the kitchen!
Some herbs are what I would define as “indispensable“.
The aromatic must-haves are: Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Just like Simon & Garfunkel told us to do with their Scarborough Fair!
Let’s start with the Mediterranean aromatic plant par excellence, the basil. Basil is the main ingredient of Ligurian Pesto but it is also the immaculate protagonist of the classic Tomato Pasta and real Margherita Pizza. Or simply sprinkled over a mozzarella and tomatoes salad! I can’t go without.
As the saying goes, it can be used practically everywhere, starting with sauces, potatoes, soups and mushrooms, mostly raw, perhaps combined with basil or chives.
The very versatile sage can find its place in many dishes, such as Saltimbocca alla Romana. But, also by adding it to some butter to dress the tortellini, particularly the ricotta and spinach type. The type of sage with big leaves is particularly suitable to be fried, especially if served together with fried zucchini blooms, and other vegetables such as eggplants, and zucchini.
Rosemary is very simple to grow and can become very lush indeed. Its fragrant needles are used to flavor the meat but also to flavor the oil. Much used in the Mediterranean diet, it can flavor potatoes and vegetables, meats, sauces, pizzas and focaccias. For me, anything roasted in the oven has to have rosmary in it.
Much used for marinating and in meat dishes. Also excellent with mushrooms and legumes or in risotto with porcini mushrooms. For the most innovative, it can also flavor a fruit salad or chocolate.
Comparable to thyme, but sweeter and more fragrant, marjoram is excellent in Mediterranean meat dishes or with sauces.
Simple to grow in pots, it is excellent in sweet and sour dishes, in desserts, in combination with chocolate, but also in fish sauces, with risotto and to give personality to seasonal side dishes. Very good also to make a Panna Cotta with mint. A fresh and delicate summer desert.
Excellent fresh and dried, oregano is a must on pizza or pizzaiola sauces. And again over a mozzarella and tomato salad!
Bay leaves are really a foreign thing in the USA. Fresh are very difficult to find, a little easier to find them dry; but they look so sad and old inside the little jar, that they would discourage even the most enthusiastic chef!
Yet the plant is so easy to grow. No green thumb necessary, they are practically impossible to kill!
I found an hillarious article about the use of Bay Leaves here: Do Bay Leaves Even Do Anything?
What does a bay leaf taste like? Nothing. What does a bay leaf smell like? Nothing.
Yet, fresh bay leaves are an important source of vitamin C. Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid. Laurel—or Bay Leaves—in the kitchen is used to give an extra touch of flavor to different dishes.
It goes particularly well with green beans, potatoes, onions, squash, carrots and celery. They are irreplaceable in stocks as they lend a deeper, savory, herbal element that fresh herbs don’t. When simmered in a tomato sauce they have a bright green citrusy note that lightens everything up and adds dimension. For me again, there are no roasts (chicken or other meat) without a bay leave or two. I love the aroma they lend to the dish.
Also recommended to add it to legumes (chickpeas, lentils, soy, beans, etc.) not only to flavor them but also obtaining the advantage of making them more digestible and avoiding the risk of abdominal bloating.
Also, if you put a bay leaf in your homemade breadcrumbs it will help them last longer; and keeping a few dry Bay Leaves in the pantry it deters the bugs and little flies that often like to hang around the Pasta and Flour.
A Laurel Wreath
The laurel wreath (Bay Leaves), has very ancient origins. It was, above all the Romans, who placed it on the head of those who returned victorious from wars but also of poets (e.g.; Dante Alighieri is always depicted with a laurel wreath). The circular crown made of bay leaves therefore represented a very important symbol of honor that the person had earned in the military, literature, etc.
Still today the laurel wreath is used to celebrate new graduates in the best way, not by chance the word “laurea” [degree] comes from the Latin “laurus”, laurel but figuratively also victory and triumph. Even today this crown symbolizes a victory, that of having completed one’s studies.
No wonder we like it!