By Barbara Beltrami
It’s spring! And that means getting out in the garden and planting things to please the palate as much as the eye. This year more than ever cultivating a garden has become a particularly popular pastime as we eagerly gravitate to the great outdoors after our long winter’s hibernation and isolation. There’s something so rewarding and satisfying about planting tiny seeds or sprouts and watching them grow into mature edibles.
Early seasonals like spinach, peas and lettuce that don’t mind the cold weather are the first to gratify our efforts, and not far behind are herbs. Some are perennials and start peeking through the soil early on; a few are annuals and need to be replenished every year, but all are fragrant, flavorful and pretty edibles that keep on giving right into the fall and are welcome plants that can be used fresh or dried on their own or as additions and enhancements to other dishes.
Here’s something to happily crunch on while you’re binge-watching TV. You can even omit the butter and probably won’t even miss it.
YIELD: Makes about 4 quarts
2 tablespoons vegetable or corn oil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried dill
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
Finely ground sea salt to taste
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
In a small skillet, heat the oil over medium heat for 30 to 45 seconds, until it starts to shimmer. Turn off heat, add herbs and pepper, stir and let sit about 20 minutes so the oil can absorb their flavors. Pop the popcorn in the microwave, an air popper or by your favorite method. Immediately transfer to a very large pot or bowl and combine it with the herb mixture, salt and melted butter. Serve immediately with soda, beer or wine.
Herb Salad I
Chop up some of these flavorful leaves for your next salad. Dress with a simple vinaigrette to enhance but not mask their flavors.
YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings.
3 cups mixture of dill, mint, parsley, lovage, and basil
3 cups mixed baby salad greens
1 carrot, shredded
4 radishes, washed, trimmed and very thinly sliced
1 scallion, trimmed and very thinly sliced
1 cup thinly sliced grape tomatoes
In large bowl toss ingredients with your favorite vinaigrette. Serve at room temperature with seafood, pasta, fish, poultry or meat.
Herb Salad II
YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings.
3 cups torn butter or Bibb lettuce
3 cups fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
3 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup fresh snipped chives
1/2 cup fresh snipped garlic chives
1/2 cup fresh tarragon leaves
1 cup fresh chervil, chopped
1 cup fresh nasturtium leaves
2 cups diced fennel bulb with leaves
Nasturtium and chive flowers for garnish
In large bowl toss ingredients with vinaigrette. Just before serving, garnish with flowers. Serve immediately with seafood, fish, pasta, poultry or meat.
Mixed Herb Pesto
If you like the traditional basil pesto, you’ll also like pestos made from other herbs.
YIELD: Makes 3/4 to 1 cup.
3 cups mixed tender herbs such as basil, cilantro, parsley, tarragon or mint
1 cup fresh baby spinach
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/4 cup shelled almonds or pistachios
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In bowl of electric food processor, puree all ingredients together to form a smooth paste. Serve at room temperature with pasta, meat, poultry, fish or seafood.
Make this up in large batches so you’ll have some to give as gifts.
YIELD: Makes about 2 cups
10 sprigs of a mixture of sage, oregano, rosemary and thyme
2 cups kosher salt
Remove thick stems, then coarsely chop remaining leaves and small stems. Place in bowl of food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to medium bowl and thoroughly combine with salt. Transfer to airtight container. Store in a cool dry place. Serve with anything that requires salt.