Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Some Words on Cooking with Herbs

My herb garden is exploding -- the basil and parsley are trying to bolt and go straight to seed, the chives look like mutants from another planet and the thyme is popping up everywhere! The rosemary is huge and fragrant. My lavender is getting ready to bloom, but the dill is struggling. Nevertheless, I managed to pull a few fronds from it last week to flavor a few dishes.

I know several people who grow herbs, but rarely use them in their cooking. I think it's basically fear that keeps them from trying out some new tastes in the kitchen. Here are a few things that I like to do with my herbs. I've been fooling around with herb blends and medleys. Basically that means I go out into the garden, cut lots of herbs and bring them into the house. I give them a rinse, shake out the excess water and blot them with a towel. Then I get to chopping.
The next step is to decide what other flavor I'd like to add in. I almost always opt for a clove or 2 of garlic and some freshly ground black pepper. Often, I use a little lemon zest, from my handy dandy microplane grater. A little olive oil can moisten the mixture, and is welcome especially if you are planning on grilling your dinner.

Recently, I've used my "herb medley" in a sauteed shrimp dish and a baked salmon. For the shrimp, I simply put a little butter and olive oil into a non stick frying pan, and added 2 cloves of minced garlic. I let this cook, very low and slow, until the garlic got tender. I hate the taste of burned garlic, so I am always careful to cook it slowly, to let it's flavor develop in the oil. To the butter, oil and garlic mixture, I poured in 1/4 cup pinot grigio and about 2 T. of my basic herb medley -- that night it was basil, rosemary, flat leaf parsley, a little thyme and some garlic chives --and allowed this to simmer away for about 10 minutes and reduce a little, while I enjoyed a cold drink and prepared a salad and some bread. Then, I dropped in 10 peeled and deveined jumbo shrimp, tails off. I turned up the heat and let it cook for about 5 minutes, allowing the shrimp cook through and turn pink. I sprinkled the skillet with some sea salt and served it over angel hair pasta. It was a big hit!

The second meal I prepared was my trusty old standby, baked salmon. I spread a little olive oil on the bottom of a cookie sheet, laid on the salmon, and topped it with the herbs. This time, I made sure the medley included as much dill as I could harvest from the garden, and lemon zest. I incorporated the garlic clove while I was chopping the medley. I added a few tablespoons of white wine to the pan -- once again the pinot grigio -- and covered the fish with foil. I baked it for about 30 minutes at 375 degrees. It was tender, juicy and had a bright, fresh flavor. So easy, so fast!

Whatever you do, don't leave those herbs outside, languishing in the heat! Bring them in and cook, cook, cook!

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