My Favorite Herbs
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Having lots of fresh herbs is a source of continuing delight for me every season. Most culinary herbs are both easy and reliable to grow. Using them in abundance for everyday cooking is a delicious luxury every gardening cook will savor with pride and pleasure. Besides enhancing the flavors of most foods, cooking with herbs is a good way to cut down on fats and salt without sacrificing taste. They're great for the health of your garden too, as blooming herb plants attract beneficial insects and pollinating honeybees.Even if you don't have a large garden space, you can grow your favorite herb plants in windowboxes or containers close to your kitchen, where you can easily snip them with abandon when you fire up the stove or dress a salad. You'll find herb plants are seldom bothered by disease or pests and yield abundant harvests all season if you tend to their basic need for good fertile soil and adequate moisture. Here are three of my favorites that I wouldn't be without each season.
Basil: Surely one of summer's most indispensable flavors, this Mediterranean native adds its bright green color and spicy sweet perfume to most summer vegetables, is the soulmate of fresh sliced tomatoes, and the chief ingredient in delicious fresh pesto sauce. It's easy to grow from seed if you are meticulous about waiting to plant when the soil is warmed and nights and days are consistently above 55 degrees. Keep seed beds evenly moist for best growth of this tropical heat lover.
Thin plants and use the thinnings in early salads. Pinch the plants at about 6 inches to encourage early branching. Put stems of newly harvested leafy basil in a vase of water to keep them fresh in the kitchen. If summers are long where you live, make several sowings of basil several weeks apart right up to the beginning of July for long, extended harvests. Keep flowers pinched off at bud stage to prolong plants' productive leafy growth. Be sure to try several different varieties of basil in your garden so you can enjoy their varied flavors and fragrances - I promise you'll love them all!
Puree pesto basil with extra virgin olive oil and freeze in zip
lock bags to make pesto sauce in the winter - it's best to add other ingredients when you actually make the sauce. During tomato season, slice basil leaves up over ripe juicy tomato slices, sprinkle with olive oil, fresh pepper, and add crumbled feta cheese to enjoy with crusty bread and a glass of white wine for a perfect summer lunch. Add chopped basil to potato and rice dishes and to soups and casseroles just before serving. The big leaves of Salad Leaf basil are great to roll up around shrimps or slivers of ham or cheese for appetizers.
Renee's shopping list:
Parsley, Gigante Italian
Parsley, Sweet Curly
Purchase Renee's Garden Seeds
Try these favorite herb recipes from Renee's cookbooks:
Creamy Parsley Salad Dressing
Pickled Basil Beans
Italian Parsley - this imported parsley has broader, flatter, darker green leaves than ordinary curled parsley. I love its wonderful mild sweet flavor, juicy texture, pretty glossy leaves and handsome luxuriant plants. Italian parsley is easy to start in spring when the weather is settled but still cool. Be sure to keep the seed bed evenly moist while waiting for germination as parsley comes up slowly and unevenly over several weeks. Once established, parsley grows easily if kept well weeded and watered. Begin harvesting sparingly once plants have about 8-10 leaves. Feed frequently to encourage the growth of graceful sprays of shiny dark leaves. Be sure to let some of the lacy plants flower and set seed as both flowers and seed umbels attract predatory insects to help control garden pests. Biennial parsley plants can handle frost and will winter over in mild climates and often self-sow the next generation for you.
Use mellow, full flavored Italian parsley combined with fresh lemon if you are cutting back on salt. The freshly snipped, rich tasting leaves are a treat sprinkled on green salads, over cucumbers, steamed summer squash and green beans. Its uniquely delicious flavor enhances most vegetable dishes and accents all grains and cooked beans. Combine with chopped clams for a wonderful pasta sauce or use half parsley and half basil for a really fresh tasting pesto sauce. Combine fresh chopped Italian parsley with a little garlic and lemon to finish any grilled fish dish to perfection.
Leafy Dill - Look for varieties like Dukat that hold their leafy fronds longer than other cultivars so you can enjoy the especially aromatic sweet flavor of dill for many weeks. You'll find dill plants' fine cut leaves are a lovely garden accent.
Sow seed in early spring in a well drained sunny spot. Make several sowings a few weeks apart for long successive harvesting and thin properly for the lushest leafy plants followed by seed heads to use for pickles and potato salad. Chopped fresh dill leaf is my herbal secret ingredient to really perk up all green salads. The filigreed blue-green leaves are nice with shellfish, and a natural with carrots and cucumbers. I love chopped fresh green dill sprinkled over buttered yellow summer squash or to top succulent steamed new potatoes. Try fresh sweet corn cut from the cob and topped with chopped fresh dill and a drizzle of melted sweet butter. Aromatic ferny dill is a delicate seasoning herb for grilled salmon and a great herb to add to tomato based marinades for BBQ'ed chicken.