Time for a new adventure at GKG — I’ll be starting a series of “cooking with: what to do with fun or random ingredients” posts (New! Fun! Exciting!). I’ve come to love various ingredients that don’t always get the love they deserve (a la brussels sprouts — way more delicious than they seemed when we were kids), ingredients that are way off the beaten path (like flaxseed meal — post pending!), or ingredients I’ve come to regard as staples.
Like this one! Here’s a piece about growing and cooking with fresh herbs. First, I’d like to introduce you to the new additions to my household …
… Basil and Chives! (Ha! Fooled ya. I wish I could say I’ve added a pet to my household … I’m looking into teacup pigs. Y’know, in my dreams, where I live in a children’s book or in Iris’ cottage in “The Holiday”) I’ve been growing them for about 3 weeks, and so far, they’re still alive and ready to roll … into little rolls for chopping. Although …
(The Parsley hasn’t fared as well. Meh. You live, you learn, you overwater slightly, herbs die, we all move on.)
Why use fresh herbs when dried are often easier? Having cooked with and enjoyed both, I can’t say I have a huge preference one way or the other. There are, however, a few times when having fresh herbs in the house is fun, helpful and tasty.
- Adding flavorful garnishes to your dishes – everything just looks prettier with a chiffonade of basil on top.
- Adding a fresh, bright burst of flavor to the last minute of cooking. Fresh herbs are best when added towards the end of a recipe, before they have a chance to go all brown and wilty on you.
- Adding color – a quick gremolata of chopped fresh parsley, lemon zest, salt and pepper brightens up a basic bowl of spaghetti and marinara with color and visual interest.
- Adding specialness (yep, totally a word. Even MS Word didn’t give it a red squiggly line. #winning) – when you’re living on a budget or just learning how to cook, fresh herbs lend your dishes a flair of style and a whiff of the gourmet.
“But GKG,” you wisely note, “Aren’t fresh herbs absurdly pricey? I could just as easily buy a container of dried oregano that lasts for a full year, and I’d definitely be getting my money’s worth… without the guilt of using 15% of my grocery budget to buy them in those little plastic packs.”
And you’d be right – fresh herbs CAN be expensive … IF you buy those little plastic pre-packaged containers of them. Usually, these packages hang out by the lettuces and greens, looking delicious and flaunting their high prices. Boo.
HOWEVER! There are two ways around this predicament.
- Buy those tubes of pre-chopped fresh herbs, like these from Gourmet Garden. (Pros and cons: green herbs can still lose their flavor, but they apparently freeze really well. Check out the comments in this forum about Gourmet Garden products from TheKitchn for more thoughts.)
- Grow them yourself! Grocery stores or home improvement stores sell herb plants, and they’re easy to grow with sunlight, pots with good drainage, and regular watering. (NOTE: Check out these tips for individual herbs about this – otherwise, you’ll drown your lemon thyme like I did last summer. Tragedy!)
So go forth and multiply … your herb usage! Here are a few of my favorite ways to use the fresh herbs I’ve got growing right now:
- Pesto, pesto, pesto. Fresh basil leaves + pine nuts (or walnuts) + olive oil + parmesan cheese + salt & pepper to taste = instant deliciousness. For tips on proportions (and an actual recipe), check out Alice Currah’s recipe on Savory Sweet Life. Mmm!
- Quick gremolata (see above, or this recipe from the wizards at About.com) using fresh parsley. Lovely topping for tomato-based sauces and pasta, or even roast pork.
- Salad garnish: Chop basil & chives finely; mix with your salad ingredients just before serving.
- Scrambled Eggs: Add fresh chives with salt, pepper and other seasonings to scrambled eggs just before cooking.
- Creamy cheesy mashed potatoes: Add freshly chopped chives to ½ package softened cream cheese (or more, if you’re feeling decadent) and stir into roughly mashed potatoes. Voila: instant holiday side dish classic.
- Add fresh basil leaves to a tomato and mozzarella Panini for caprese salad in a sandwich. Mmm!
Do you guys like using fresh herbs? Do you find it’s easy or difficult to grow them yourself? Are you more “dried herbs” people?