Welcome to the first Fresh Food Friday! As I mentioned last week, each Friday I'd like to share some of my favorite recipes for using foods we are growing in the garden. Since it's early in the season there's not too much ready to eat, so I thought I'd start with herbs.
I love having fresh herbs and I use them a ton! Here's my herb garden this year. I'm growing (from left to right) : Mint; Oregano; Cinnamon, Sweet, Thai & Purple Basil; Thyme; Sage; Pineapple Sage; Chives; Lavendar; Parsley; and Cilantro (toward the bottom of the picture). I really only grow stuff I plan to use. I took this picture a few weeks ago, so everything is much bigger now!
The great thing about herbs is that you don't really need a whole garden to grow a nice variety. Here's a kitchen herb pot I planted up for my Nana who has limited gardening space. In this small pot I was able to fit, two kinds of basil, chives, lavender, parsley, oregano, and mint. This would fit on any apartment patio; anyone, anywhere can grow herbs. Now let me convince you why you should...
My boys actually will pick a stem of chives and just chew on it as they play outside. I don't think I would have ever done that as a kid. Kind of funny. I love snipping a bunch of chives to top a baked potato, add to an omelet, or make herb butter. To make the butter I just soften a stick of butter and then stir in finely chopped chives (I usually use scissors to cut rather than chop.) You can also add a dash of pepper or garlic salt. Then return the butter to the fridge, it lasts for a couple of weeks.
Oregano is perennial if planted in the garden. So plant once, harvest for years.
We use chopped fresh oregano in any Italian dish (stuffed shells, lasagna, pene with alfredo)
Since it comes back like crazy there's plenty of it to use so it's great for making big batches of pesto which you can freeze and use all year.
We probably bought 15 basil plants this year, in 4 varieties. Here's our favorite uses:
One Pot Italian Dinner or any Italian meal really.
Caprese Sandwhiches (you can also use oregano instead, like pictured below.)
Watermelon salad: Cubed watermelon with chopped basil (try it with strawberries too).
I use mint probably most often in making pretty and refreshing pitchers of water. Wash long stems of mint and crumple them up or lightly cut them with a knife to create some cuts in the leaves (which lets out the flavor) and then just add to a pitcher of cold water. Let sit in the fridge for a few hours for more flavor. I also like the pineapple sage in water.
We like this cold cucumber & mint soup.
Mint also tastes great chopped and tossed into a fruit salad.
I am becoming a big fan of thyme. I especially like it on roasted veggies like butternut squash, or carrots. I love to use dried thyme is winter soups.
Parsley gets used in soups, fresh or dried, and is the only thing that actually grows through most of the winter here.
Sage, like oregano and mint, comes back with a vengeance, I usually have to cut it back so it doesn't take over everything. I rarely use fresh sage, but like to use dried (since it has a milder flavor) in cooking beef or soup, or turkey.
Be sure to dry some of all your herbs if you have enough so you can enjoy homegrown flavor all year round. Make sure herbs are completely dry before storing in a sealed container. I usually lay them out on a towel or a flat basket to dry for a week or so. Don't put them in a bag or sealed container until they are completely crispy. If there's any moisture, your herbs will mold, and that's just sad. Yep, been there. Dried lavender can be but into a linen bags to use as a sachet (and make your clothes smell great) or mixed into a sugar scrub or just tied to dry as a mini bouquet (like a little French Fromagerie--classy!).
And last but not least, herb flowers can give you beautiful mini bouquets. Cutting off the flower stem will keep the plant growing and producing, rather than going to seed, so if you want greater yield from your herbs be sure to cut off the buds or blossoms. (above left: cinnamon basil with yellow lettuce blossom, red pineapple sage blossom and a couple of purple cosmos, above right: sage blossoms with bolted parsley). Mint and oregano make great greenery combined with some flowers from your garden as well, as you might remember from Flower Arranging 101.
I hope this gives you lots of ideas for herbs. We grow them, use them and love them!
Thanks for reading!