18 May Fresh herbs a summer cook’s delight
And that I waltzed out yonder to see what was ripe that I could use to create something wonderful for dinner.
But I am not going to lie to you. No green thumb, no big garden, no waltzing out back to harvest homegrown garden vegetables for me.
I can grow roses. Oh, and mint, of course. But that’s not saying much because we all know mint grows all by itself — like a weed. But beyond that, I am at the mercy of what’s fresh and seasonal in the produce department or at the farmers market.
This year I am excitedly awaiting June 4 when the first of the summer’s produce from Groundworks Farm will be available. Eric and Audra Bergman grow more than 30 different vegetables and herbs about nine miles west of Great Falls and sell seasonal farm shares of their local produce.
June’s harvest is expected to include salad mix, spinach, beets, scallions, chard, radish, cilantro, sugar snap peas and kohlrabi.
I can’t wait.
In the meantime, I am getting my growing fix by tending my windowsill herb garden, such a perfect fit for me, compact and contained like it is. An easy spray nozzle’s distance away from the sink, my herb garden should fare well, soaking in the sun of the bay window and in plain sight of the gardener who also doubles as the cook and chief bottle washer, more than willing to water when the little guys look thirsty.
Growing your own herbs is easy and fun, and saves money if you use fresh herbs as much as I do. At $3 a pop for the small packages in the produce department, investing in herb plants from a local nursery and starting an herb garden of your own sure makes sense.
There’s a world of difference between dried herbs in a jar from the spice rack and fresh herbs snipped from your herb garden. Fresh herbs are naturally more flavorful and aromatic because of their essential oils, which evaporate and are lost when exposed to heat and air.
Two ways to preserve the essential oils in herbs are by making herb butters or herb vinegars, both thoughtful summer hostess gifts for cooks who like to entertain.
Herb butter can be made by mixing ½ cup softened butter with ¼ cup (packed) coarsely chopped herbs. Roll the herb butter into a log, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for up to three months. Herb butters can be sliced and placed on top of a grilled steak or fish fillet, a delicious way to dress up the entree.
They also can be warmed to room temperature and served as a spread for bread.
Herb vinegars are made by filling a glass jar with washed leaves or sprigs of fresh herbs and covering with white wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar or Champagne vinegar to cover. Set the jar in the sun for a week. Then strain into a clean bottle and seal tightly. Herb vinegars are a flavorful base for salad dressings or marinades.
Getting started with growing your own herbs is as simple as visiting one of our local nurseries.
Buying plants as opposed to starting herbs from seed is the way to go in my book, since patience has never been my strong suit. Trips to both Bundi Gardens and the Flower Farm pleasantly surprised me with the wide variety of herb plants available locally.
If you like to cook with herbs, consider planting an herb garden this spring.
You’ll be rewarded instantly with the unique aromas and flavors that only fresh herbs can provide.
This week’s Special of the Day is Herb Garden Heaven with recipes for Roasted Baby Reds with Proscuitto, Sour Cream and Freshly-Snipped Chives, Herbed Brie and Walnut Tart and Basil Balsamic Strawberries.
Preheat oven to 425°.
Wash potatoes and slice in half horizontally.
Pour olive oil and seasoning into bottom of 9-by-13inch glass baking dish. Add potatoes and stir to coat with herbs. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Arrange potatoes cut side up and roast in preheated oven for 30 minutes or until blistered and golden brown.
Let cool slightly.
In a medium pan over medium high heat, saute shallots in 1 tsp. butter until soft and golden brown.
With a melon baller, remove a scoop of potato from each roasted potato and place in mixing bowl.
Add 1 tbsp. butter, shallots and ¼ cup sour cream and stir to combine thoroughly.
Scoop mixture back into potatoes. Top with crispy prosciutto, dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of chives.
Serves six as an appetizer
HERBED BRIE AND WALNUT TARTCrust: » 2 cups flour » ¾ cup oil » ¼ cup water » ¼ tsp. salt Filling: » 2 tbsp. butter » ½ cup shallots, minced » 1 cup toasted walnuts » 1 egg » ½ cup milk » 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard » ¼ tsp. salt » 1 cup brie, trimmed and sliced into 2-inch strips » 2 tsp. freshly snipped thyme, leaves only » Additional thyme sprigs for garnish
Make the crust: Combine all crust ingredients in mixing bowl and stir until incorporated.
Form the dough into a ball and roll out between two sheets of waxed paper.
Roll into 11-inch circle for 9-inch tart or divide dough into six equal balls and roll into crust for individual tarts. Transfer crust into 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom or individual tart pans with removable bottoms.
Trim edges of crust.
Make the filling: In a medium pan over medium heat, melt butter and saute shallots until soft.
Press toasted walnuts into the bottom of each tart.
In a mixing bowl, combine egg, milk, mustard and salt.
Whisk to combine.
Arrange brie slices in bottom of prepared crust.
Sprinkle with snipped thyme.
Top with sauteed shallots.
Pour filling over just to cover.
Arrange thyme sprigs over the top of the tarts.
Bake for 15-17 minutes for individual tarts or 20 minutes for 9-inch tart or until lightly browned and set.
Let cool briefly on cooling rack.
Remove rings and bottoms of removable tart pans and serve. Makes six individual tarts or one 9-inch tart.
In a glass mixing bowl, whisk together balsamic vinegar and sugar until sugar is dissolved.
Add basil and strawberries and stir to combine.
Let sit at room temperature for 1 to 3 hours.
Serve over scoops of vanilla ice cream with basil sprigs for garnish.