Home-Grown Herbs

By Swezey, Lauren Bonar; Anusasananan, Linda | Sunset, March 2002 | Go to article overview

Home-Grown Herbs


Swezey, Lauren Bonar, Anusasananan, Linda, Sunset


These nine culinary herbs are indispensable for gardener-cooks. Here's how to grow and cook with them

* Fresh herbs are simply the best flavorings for many foods and drinks. But there's nothing simple about the complex array of tastes they impart to dishes. "Fresh herbs open up the senses and invite one to cook in a looser, freer way," says Carolyn Dille, author of a book on cooking with herbs and the first chef at Chez Panisse Cafe in Berkeley "The pleasure they bring to the garden and the kitchen is indispensable."

Dille, who gardens in Santa Cruz, says that dried herbs are no match for those that are freshly picked from the garden. "They're totally different creatures," she emphasizes. "Fresh herbs contain all of their complex volatile oils. Once the herbs have dried, some oils dissipate and flavors change."

Even herbs purchased fresh at the produce market have lost some of their essences by the time they're sold. "From a flavor perspective, it's a real plus to grow your own," says Dille.

Listed on the following pages are nine herbs that gardenercooks won't want to be without.

Fettuccine with green herbs

1. In a 5- to 6-quart pan over high heat, bring 2 to 3 quarts water to a boil. Add fettuccine and boil, stirring occasionally to separate noodles, until barely tender to bite, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a wide, shallow bowl, combine olive oil, chives, parsley, oregano, lemon peel, lemon juice, and pepper.

3. Drain pasta, reserving 1/3 cup cooking water Pour hot pasta into bowl with herb mixture. Gently lift with two spoons to mix, adding salt to taste and as much of the reserved pasta cooking water to moisten as desired.

Per serving: 345 cal., 42% (144 cal.) from fat; 8.9 g protein; 16 g fat (2.3 g sat.); 43 g carbo (2 g fiber); 23 mg sodium; 55 mg chol.

FOOD STYLING: BASIL FRIEDMAN

essential herbs for a kitchen garden

* Basil (Ocimum basilicum). Sometimes referred to as the king of herbs (the name is derived from basileus, which is Greek for king), basil has fragrant, bright green leaves on 6-inchto 2-foot-tall plants. Annual. All zones.

BEST CULINARY VARIETIES: Tinissino Verde A Palla' bush basil, 'Italian Pesto', 'Lettuce Leaf', 'Mammoth Sweet', 'Mrs. Burns' Lemon Basil', 'Profuma di Genova', 'Red Rubin', 'Sweet Basil'.

GROWING TIP: Basil thrives when the soil is warm and nighttime temperatures are above 600, so don't rush springtime planting. To encourage branching on young seedlings, cut back stems to just above the first set of leaves when plants have developed three pairs of leaves.

HARVEST TIP: Prune often to avoid flower formation. When a stem has developed four pairs of leaves, cut each stem down to just above the first set. Continue cutting plants back throughout the summer, or set out new seedlings in succession a month or so apart and harvest the entire plant for pesto.

USES: Eggs, fish, marinades, meats, pastas, pestos, salads, soups, stews, and tomatoes.

* Chives (Allium). Green, grasslike, 12- to 24-inch-long spears form in clumps. Clusters of rose purple or white flowers in spring. Perennial.

BEST CULINARY VARIETIES: Chives (A. scboenoprasum); all zones. Chinese or garlic chives (A. tuberosum); zones 1-24, H1-H2.

GROWING TIP: Increase the number of plants by dividing in winter every two years or so.

HARVEST TIP: Gather chives by snipping the spears to the ground (otherwise you'll have unsightly brown foliage mixed in with the green).

USES: Butters, cheeses, eggs, lamb, mayonnaise, potatoes, rice, salads, sauces, seafood, soups, sour cream, stews, and vegetables.

* Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum). Bright green leaves on foot-tall stems look similar to flat-leafed parsley. Cilantro refers to the leaves; the seeds are called coriander.

BEST CULINARY VARIETIES: Grow types that are slow to bolt (go to seed), which are labeled as such or sold as a variety called 'Slow-Bolt'. …

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