Back in September I had a surplus of eggplants. Since I love caponata so much, I made a huge batch. Ever heard of the phrase "too much of a good thing can be bad"? Yep, it was a problem, there was no way I could eat all that caponata in a couple of weeks. In a desperate attempt to keep it from spoiling, I bagged them up and froze them. And promptly forgot about them. Now it's January I am starting to yearning the fresh taste of the summer. Looking into my freezer I spotted my frozen capanata. I retrieved a bag, let it thaw in the refrigerator and the next day heated some up in the microwave... WOW! I was hit with the full flavor of the summer! I bought a loaf of baguette, sliced it up and lightly toasted the slices, and topped with capanata. It is truly a great treat in a gloomy winter day :~)
Herbs are essential for good eating. The ones that win my favors are: garlic, parsley, oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, cilantro and green onion. Among these some you need to plant every year, some are perennials that make good garden features in your flower garden or boarders. The good new is they are easy to grow. Let's take a look at each of them and how to grow and use them.
Basil:The king of herbs. It is an annual herb in most of the regions with four seasons. Basil the the bed rock of Mediterranean cooking. It is great with fresh made pasta, in salads and for pesto making. One of my favorite is Basil Butter which is a must have in every summer table.
Garlic: There are so substitutes to a clove of fresh garlic! It has a sweet after taste when eating raw to me. To grow garlic here in the Pacific Northwest, select large cloves and sow them in November before the ground is frozen. They will grow a little shoots and these shoots are hardy to the winter cold and snow. When spring arrives they will grow and produce a large bulb underneath. By July the bulbs will be large enough to eat. Steal a few fresh garlic to eat, bend over the tops of the rest so the nutrients will go to the garlic instead of the stems. Harvest the rest of the garlic by fall. A nice side benefit of growing garlic is the garlic shoots. These are tender and sweet when harvested early stage, and are very good stir-fried with chicken, pork or beef. Fresh garlic can be pickled. When dried properly, garlic will last a long time. I also use a large amount of garlic when making pesto with my basil.To grow good quality garlic, you need to sow them every year. Sometimes if you don't harvest all your bulbs below ground, they will come back year after year. These "volunteers" tend to be smaller in size, although they taste the same, it's a lot of work to peel them.
Thyme: Thyme comes in many varieties, there is regular thyme, lemon thyme and pineapple thyme. Thyme is a perennial. It is made of many skinny branches and spreads out in a circular pattern. Once in a while, I give the whole plant a "haircut", that is cutting across the whole plant to shorten the branches. This will spring many new shoots from the base of the plant and make the plant fuller. Thyme lends itself well in many dishes, chicken, soups, pot roasts and seafood. Although thyme is almost like a evergreen, it grows much slower in the winter, so dry the excess thyme is a good idea.
Oregano: Oregano is a must in tomato sauce, pizza and Greek salad with fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and onions. It is a low growing perennial with lots of thin branches, much like the thyme. Oregano has larger leaves than thyme. It tends to be on a weedy side and spread quick easily. So try to keep it contained is the key. Give it a "haircut" when the thin branches get too long same way as thyme, the plant will be fuller. Excess leaves can also be dried. Oregano is great in home made tomato sauce.
Parsley: Parsley is a bi-annual, meaning the second year plant produce seed stalk. Parsley is easy to grow, it grow into a luscious plant given the right condition. Parsley is VERY hardy. They survive the frost quite well.You can keep enjoying them until the hard frost hits. Plant parsley in the spring, o start them each year, or buy starts from nurseries. I use fresh parsley extensively, add chopped parsley to scrambled eggs, make herb butter with garlic, chopped parsley and butter. The herb butter can be used to make garlic bread, or put in boiled vegetables such as green beans, broccoli or brush on sliced eggplant before grilling. Another application I grew quite found of is a green sauce I make for my grilled meats or fish. The recipe is on my seed packet for parsley. It's of south American origin, I believe is called Chimichurri Sauce. My version is consist of parsley, cilantro, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. It is DELICIOUS and somewhat addictive. Another way to use parsley is to make the middle eastern food called tabouli salad. There are many versions of this. My favorite is a salad made with parsley, mint, bulgur wheat (or coos coos), tomatoes, lemon juice... Ahhhhh, fresh parsley! One reason I look forward to summer. As with the other herbs, excess parsley can be dried and they are great for winter soup, cioppino (a tomato based seafood stew) with some crusty garlic bread, yummmmm!
Rosemary:Rosemary is a beautiful bush with blue hue. It is easy to maintain once established. However they will not stand sever cold. Both of my established plants died in the big snow storm we had a couple of years ago. I now planted a couple varieties. One of them, a tougher, woodier variety is suppose to be more cold hardy than the more tender leaf variety. Rosemary taste great in pork, beef and lamb. One thing I like to make in the summer is rosemary garlic fries, which is french fried potatoes topped with chopped rosemary and garlic infused bread crumbs (add your salt and pepper to taste). Try it! It's surprisingly good.
Sage: Sage is a beautiful woody plant that makes a good corner anchoring plant. And it is a great culinary herb. Sage taste good with poultry, pork and veal. It also taste good in soups. Sage is like an evergreen, it maintains its leaves in the winter so it's a great herb to have around, particularly for the winter.
Cilantro: Cilantro is an annual herb. It needs to be planted every year, better yet, several times a year. It's a nice herb to keep around especially when the tomatoes, peppers come to maturity. Yea, nothing like fresh salsa! Cilantro tends to bolt in when the days gets longer, try to plant them in shady area. It can be quite cold hardy, so I always start a batch or two at the end to summer to ensure I have fresh cilantro well into fall.