Fresh herbs a summer cook’s delight

18 May Fresh herbs a summer cook’s delight

 

I wish I could say I have a green thumb and a big bountiful garden out back.

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.

Roasted Baby Reds with Prosciutto, Sour Cream and Fresh Chives

ROASTED BABY REDS WITH PROSCIUTTO, SOUR CREAM AND FRESH CHIVES

» 2 pounds baby red potatoes
» 2 tbsp. olive oil
» 1 tbsp. Italian seasoning
» ¼ tsp. salt
» ¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper
» ¼ pound prosciutto, finely chopped and cooked until crispy
» 2 tbsp. shallots, finely minced
» 1 tsp. plus 1 tbsp. butter
» ¼ cup sour cream
» 1 tbsp. freshly snipped chives

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 Tart

HERBED BRIE AND WALNUT TART

Crust:
» 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.

Basil Balsamic Strawberries over Ice Cream

 

BASIL BALSAMIC STRAWBERRIES
 
» ¼ cup sugar
» 4 cups strawberries, sliced thinly
» ¼ cup fresh basil leaves, minced
» 6 small basil sprigs, for gar­nish

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.

Serves six.

 
Sydne George is a food jour­nalist specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography. She can be reached at sydnegeorge@hot­mail.com .

 

2 Comments
  • Anne
    Posted at 09:11h, 19 May Reply

    Delicioso Syd! I know you can grow chives as well, thank you so much for giving me some of yours. I am going to get started on my kitchen garden soon hopefully.

  • Sydne George
    Posted at 09:13h, 19 May Reply

    Thanks, Anne. And you’re so welcome, my friend. My chives are your chives. Enjoy them. Maybe they’ll sprout some blossoms for garnish, too!

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