Uh-oh. Here comes the cool, then cold weather. Our garden on the patio is getting rag-tag and starting to slip into sleepiness. The leaves of our two trees– crepe myrtle & crab apple– are dropping, scattering, and painting an abstract landscape on the patio pebble floor.
All spring and summer I had the delight of stepping outside in the middle of cooking–leaving sizzling pans and boiling pots on the stove–while quickly snipping herbs from just outside the door. How I LOVE that. After years of apartment house living in NYC, the multi-herb wonder in the backyard is my little paradise.
Here are my go-to most loved favorites…
Rosemary. Luckily this pine-needle-like bush carries on through the winter. Even if I’m not cooking with it I have to brush my hand across the leaves whenever I walk by and sniff the scent left on my fingers. Something about that smell is immediately transporting. To where? Some place in the deep soul of plant life that also lives in a happy place on my palate. Rosemary is lovely with red meats especially lamb. But beef, too. And pork as well. It can be overpowering tho so I usually don’t use it on delicate dishes. Focaccia topping: perfect. Mince up the leaves finely if in a sauce.
Oregano. This is the one herb that is okay dried, too. It’s a different flavor than fresh, but dried oregano turns a tomato sauce into a pizza sauce. Fresh oregano jumpstarts a pesto (use just a little with your basil or parsley). It’s a surprising, welcome addition to a ravioli filling or roasted vegetable.
Parsley. I can never grow enough parsley for what I need. Parsley can go everywhere. Sometimes I like just a parsley pesto. Parsley swims abundantly in my artichoke cooking water. Minced in arrabbiata sauce. In the breadcrumb mixture for chicken cutlets. Minced in meatballs. It’s delicate taste can fit anywhere, yet it does add a LOT.
Basil. I remember the basil growing in my friend’s terraced garden up in the hills of Liguria. Basil shines in Liguria the most — the land of basil pesto. Where is originated. But it also shines in Napoli where pizza Margherita was born: pizza with tomato, mozzarella, and basil– the colors of the Italian flag.
Mint. Mint is the excitement herb. There are so many kinds, you can collect dozens. I grow two kinds of peppermint. The small, pointy leafed kind and a very delicate wide leave that my friend, Kazel, gave me. I also have chocolate mint which I adore. Add mint to your pesto. Break up leaves in a salad, or cooked vegetable dish. In the ravioli with your ricotta. Break up leaves in butter sauce. A mint frittata is stunningly deliciously!
Thyme. The thyme I grow is a kind I don’t see often. The leaves are feathery and rounded. It grows like crazy and I usually cut a large handful of leaves to top roasting chicken. When the chicken is done the leaves are all browned and stems are brittle. I remove the thyme, some leaves fall onto the meat, and the essence of thyme permeates the dish. Lovely.
Sage. Just like it’s name here’s a a wise herb. It almost has a smoky presence and brings an air of mysterious love to your dishes. You can also deep fry it for a crispy deep-flavored garnish to risotto, pasta, and vegetables.
Use herbs. I buy them in the store when winter sets in deep. It’s like insisting the garden be present on your table even in February. Herbs will brighten the dark cold days and positively charm your garden and kitchen in spring and summer. Dance with your herbs. They know all the steps.