Cooking with herbs

Has anyone had a look at the Community Garden herb bed recently? In spite of the recent drought most herbs are doing well, so it won’t be long before they’ll need a bit of a trim, which makes this an ideal time to collect a few sprigs to cook with.

Most of the herbs in the bed are culinary herbs. Some will be familiar – parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, for example – but a few won’t be so well known. So I thought I’d share a few recipes that use some of the less-faniliar herbs.

Lemon thyme

Lemon Thyme
Lemon Thyme

I really like thyme, as do the bees, and so I’ve planted quite a few different varieties in my own garden. But the one I keep in a pot by the back door so I can snip a few stems whenever I need them is lemon thyme. The commonest variety on sale is variegated lemon thyme which is really pretty, with golden variegated leaves and lovely purple flowers. As a bonus it seems to last through the winter, which can’t be said of all thymes. Not surprisingly, given its name, it has a lovely lemony flavour that gives dishes a real zing, and I particularly love it in this pasta and crumb dish.

Herb crumbed pasta with mozzarella

This is enough for 2. Cook 225 g pasta in salted water until al dente. Meanwhile, fry 50g fresh breadcrumbs and the leaves from 5-10 stems of lemon thyme in 4 tbsp olive oil until the breadcrumbs turn golden and crispy. Set aside and then lightly fry a sliced garlic clove and a small red chilli (seeded or not as you like) in another tbsp of oil. Don’t let the garlic brown. Take off the heat and allow the oil to infuse with the garlic and chilli until you’re ready to eat. When the pasta is cooked, drain then stir in 1/2 a ball of mozzarella chopped into small cubes, 25 g grated parmesan, the grated rind of 1/2 a lemon, the herb crumbs and the strained garlic/chilli oil. The mozzarella should just start to melt in the heat of the pasta. Serve with more parmesan scattered on the top. At this time of year I also add a few lightly cooked asparagus tips (from my garden). Later in the summer I’ll add some fried courgettes instead.

Lemon thyme can be substituted in any recipe that uses thyme. Another regular dish in my house is this butternut squash risotto dish where I used lemon thyme instead of regular thyme. You really do notice the difference.

Tarragon

Tarragon
Tarragon

This is a herb I wouldn’t be without but, unfortunately, it has a short season so I like to make the most of it when it’s still green and fresh. It has a fairly strong flavour so you don’t need much, but it does need to be added at the last minute. It has a particular affinity for chicken and a tablespoon of chopped tarragon is a great addition to the gravy for a roast chicken, and particularly nice if you also add a bit of cream or crème fraiche to the gravy too. Indeed, tarragon seems to go well in any creamy sauce, and I like to add it to a pork and pear dish. This is a really quick meal, great with some new potatoes and something green from your garden (or the Community Garden). For 4 – 1 pork fillet, 4 pears, 2 tbsp crème fraiche (or regular cream), 1 tsp grain mustard, some tarragon. The original recipe uses thyme, which is also delicious. Sometimes I use lemon thyme, particularly in the winter when the tarragon season is over. Recipe: Peel, core and slice each pear into 8 then fry the slices in oil and butter until soft and golden. Remove and add a little oil to the frying pan then fry the pork fillet cut across into 2 cm thick slices (medallions) until just sealed (a couple of minutes). Add about 100 ml of dry cider (drink the rest) and simmer until the pork is tender (about 10 mins). Remove the pork and turn the heat up to reduce the cider to about 50 ml. Add 1 tsp grain mustard and 50 to 75 ml cream or crème fraiche. Simmer until the sauce has thickened a bit then add the pork and pear to heat through. Finally, stir in one or two tsp finely chopped tarragon (or thyme) and serve immediately.

The tarragon plants in the community garden are still small, but if you have space in your own garden do plant a couple of tarragon plants as they will increase in size every year. Once you have a decent clump, you can make tarragon vinegar and tarragon jelly, both great ways of ‘preserving’ tarragon over the winter, since it doesn’t dry successfully. Tarragon vinegar is great in salad dressings, and tarragon jelly is super with roast chicken. You can find instructions for both of these in a previous blog.

Chives

Chives
Chives

This familiar herb tends to be used only as a garnish, but it has such a lovely oniony flavour so it’s well worth using as a cooking ingredient. I particularly like chopped chives stirred into butter and poured over new potatoes from my garden. Yum! For a green speckled look and an oniony flavour, stir a couple of tablespoons of chopped chives into a savoury pancake batter. Chive pancakes can be wrapped around small pieces of fresh salmon which are then baked in the oven until the salmon is just firm. Serve with a white wine and cream sauce into which you’ve stirred yet more chives. This is a pretty stylish dish and a good showcase for chives. But don’t stop at using leaves. The flowers made a colourful and flavourful addition to a green salad.

How to use herbs

There are lots of books and websites to get you started using herbs a bit more in your cooking. I have to confess to growing lots of interesting herbs but never using them. However, I recently came across a Jamie Oliver website that has inspired me to be a bit more adventurous. Alternatively, you can watch Jamie Oliver’s herb video here.

Happy herb cooking!

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