As spring arrives, it’s a good time to take a look at your herb garden as this is the best time to enjoy all the flavours and aromas of fresh herbs before some of them start to wilt in the intense summer heat.
So when you’re planning to plant your plants, it’s important to choose herbs that you enjoy cooking with.
I couldn’t imagine my kitchen without fresh herbs. A simple dish can be transformed by using a few fresh herbs as they greatly enhance the taste, appearance and nutritional value of practically all the food we eat.
They do deteriorate very quickly once they’ve been picked, so by growing a small selection of herbs, even in pots or a window box, they will always be on hand when you need them.
I’ve just planted a few more obscure, almost forgotten herbs like Summer savoury, lovage; woodruff, hyssop, borage and rue, alongside other favourites such as parsley, chervil, tarragon, mint and lemon balm to complement the sturdy Mediterranean herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme, fennel, marjoram and oregano.
Bland food can be made exciting with the addition of herbs and they can also help to enhance and bring out the natural flavours of food in a similar way to salt, but it is important to use herbs correctly.
Too many herbs can overpower and completely overshadow the natural flavour of food and too little in a dish will achieve nothing.
The addition of herbs must be balanced to complement the natural flavours that are already in foods.
When cooking with herbs, there are a couple of basic rules you need to apply: Herbs with tougher leaves, generally have a stronger flavour and are usually added at the start of cooking - e.g. sage, rosemary, thyme, winter savoury.
These herbs can also be added towards the end of cooking, but in this case they need to be very finely chopped and used sparingly. Whole sprigs can be added to soups, stews, casseroles, roasts and marinades, but they should be removed before serving.
If the plants have soft, lush leaves, add them at the end of cooking, in order to retain their full flavour, colour and nutritional content - e.g. parsley, chervil, chives, basil, mint, coriander and dill. Fresh herbs are much more gentle than dried, normally requiring twice as much in any recipe.
Dried herbs & spices need time to release their flavours and are added to the food at the beginning of cooking, while fresh are much better when added near the end.
So how can we maximize the use of our herb garden? Well you could make
Herb vinegars by placing fresh herbs into a bottle of vinegar and letting it stand, sealed, for at least 2 to 3 weeks.
These vinegars are ideal as salad dressings and used in various sauces such as hollandaise. You could do the same with non aromatic oils to make aromatic herb oils; Suitable herbs include Tarragon, sage, marjoram, rosemary, thyme and savoury.
How about herb butter: Finely chopped herbs can be mixed with butter and used with freshly baked bread or to add flavour to roasted tomatoes and boiled vegetables. These herb butters can be sliced and frozen.
Herb salts can be really useful as well, mix a little chopped thyme, rosemary, oregano and marjoram with Flor de Sal to make a wonderfully aromatic herb.
A great way to cook a leg or shoulder of lamb is to make small incisions in the skin and rub it well with this intensely flavoured salt before roasting in a moderate oven over a couple of garlic bulbs and a splash of white wine.
It fills the kitchen with an unbelievable, mouth-watering aroma and tastes fantastic. Serve with fresh asparagus and new potatoes.
Fresh herb dip
- 1 small cucumber, peeled, deseeded and very finely diced
- 125g cream cheese
- 120ml natural yoghurt
- 4tbsp finely chopped
- Mixed herbs such as basil, coriander, tarragon, chives, parsley
- 1tbsp white wine vinegar
Beat together the cream cheese, yoghurt and white wine vinegar and season well. Fold in the cucumber and fresh herbs. Put in a dish and chill until required.
Asparagus and fresh herb frittata
- 400g cooked green asparagus
- 6 large eggs
- 50g freshly grated parmesan
- Sea salt and black pepper
- 2 tbsp chopped chives
- 1 tbsp oregano, chopped
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp butter
Cut the asparagus into 1cm pieces. Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl, and then add the asparagus, parmesan, sea salt, pepper, chives and oregano, stirring well.
Heat the butter and oil in a non-stick frying pan. Pour in the egg mixture and cook gently for 3 minutes until the bottom has set.
Cover and leave over gentle heat for 5 minutes or until set on top. Scatter with a little extra cheese, cut into wedges and serve.