One of key differences between a run-of-the-mill dish and a culinary masterpiece is the use of fresh herbs. Salads, main dishes, and appetizers all benefit from the punch of flavor that comes from fresh herbs. (( Essentials. The Culinary Classroom. Accessed 23-7-2014. http://www.theculinaryclassroom.com/#!pro-tips/c21r )) (( Gridley, Megan. Fresh Herbs are the Key to Glorious Gourmet Salads. Mega Cycle. Published 20-6-2014. Accessed 23-7-2014. http://themegacycle.com/fresh-herbs-key-glorious-gourmet-salads/ ))
Recommended Herbs for Cooking
The best fresh herbs to have on hand are primarily determined by the types of dishes you cook and your personal taste. The universal go to herbs for a variety of dishes are Sweet Basil, Thyme and Cilantro. Mediterranean and Mexican dishes frequently call for oregano and Asian recipes mint. (( Samonte, Samantha. The Benefits of Growing Herbs for Your Restaurant. Chef’s Resources. Published 3-5-2013. Accessed 23-7-2014. http://www.chefs-resources.com/Growing-Herbs-for-Your-Restaurant ))
Benefits of Fresh Herbs in Cooking
Beyond superior taste, many of the herbs add valuable antioxidants to your diet when used in the fresh form. For herbs that contain the antioxidants in the essential oil found in their leaves, the majority of the benefit is lost when dried. Herbs to use fresh when at all possible are: (( Ford, Allison. Herbal Essence: Fresh or Dried Herbs? Chef’s Blade. Accessed 23-7-2014. http://chefsblade.monster.com/news/articles/1918-herbal-essence-fresh-or-dried-herbs ))
While many agree that “fresh is best,” the main obstacles to cooking with fresh herbs are obtaining them and storing them. Some herbs are not always readily in stock in the supermarket and if they are often their freshness is doubtful. Also, fresh herbs have a limited shelf life if they are not used immediately.
Planting a Herb Garden
Planting your own kitchen herb garden avoids the main obstacles to using fresh herbs in your cooking. The herbs are harvested right before use for ultimate freshness and there will be no question on whether or they are truly organic.
Herb gardening is especially well suited to container gardening. Some herbs, such as mint and lemon balm can be invasive if planted directly in the ground. Planting in containers avoids this problem while still allowing you to enjoy their freshness in your recipes.
Regardless of the space you have in your home or apartment, a kitchen herb garden can be yours. Raised beds can be installed in those unused side yard areas. Herbs can be grown in decorative pots on your patio or even in a window box. A vertical garden can also be used to grow herbs. We have a number of ready to go container gardens in stock at the Garden Center. Stop by the Garden Center for a container garden solution for your space and herbs specifically suited to Houston area gardening.
Herb Favorites from Chefs
Here are a few recommendations from chefs.
Stephanie Manley: Kingwood resident, author, and food blogger at Copykat.com
I have great luck with parsley, mint, chives, and basil. I also really like to plant a rosemary bush in my yard. This gives me me a lot of flexibility in cooking.
I like to plant mint in a container so it doesn’t take over the flower bed, it is great for hot tea and mojitos. I also love parsley because it can get added to most any dish to make it look extra pretty.
Basil is a wonderful herb you can plant it does really well here. A couple of plants will keep me in salad caprese and homemade pesto all summer long.
One of Stephanie’s favorite summer pasta recipes featuring basil.
Pesto can be made with other nuts such as pecans for a new twist.
- 25 fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup pecans
- 4 – 5 fresh garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons Romano cheese
- 1 pound of pasta – cooked according to package directions
Wash basil leaves and place into a food processor with the olive oil and garlic. Pulse several times until the garlic begins to break into small pieces. Add kosher salt and pecans and process briefly at medium speed, then add cheese and pulse until the cheese is mixed uniformly through.
Pour pesto over cooked pasta and mix well. If you don’t intend to eat all of the pesto at once, store remaining pesto in an air tight container, it will remain fresh for a couple of days.
Ed Garrubbo: International Restaurant Reviewer and Italian Food Blogger at The Garrubbo Guide
Basil. Basil. Basil.
Basil is easy to grow and is so much more flavorful when freshly picked. “If you can’t get your basil in Liguria, then grow it yourself.”
One of Ed’s favorite recipes for pesto is below.
Trofie al Pesto Genovese (Basil Pesto Sauce)
Gently wash the basil in cold water and pat dry with a towel. Crush a glove of garlic in the mortar and add some basil (30 leaves per clove), and then a sprinkle of salt. In a gentle circular motion, use the mortar to tear the basil until it turns into a bright green oily liquid. Repeat this process until all the basil and garlic are added. Add the pine nuts and gently crush them into the mixture. Next, add the cheese. When the cheese is mixed in, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and mix together. At this point, the pesto is ready to use. Cook the pasta, retaining some of the cooking water. Drain the pasta and place it in a serving bowl. Slowly mix in the pesto sauce and a few tablespoons of the cooking water, as necessary, if it looks dry. Serve immediately with a sprinkle of Parmigiano.
* If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can use a food processor, but use it on pulse mode, so as to avoid turning this into a puree. There should be a fine, leafy consistency.