Every year, I welcome the advent of spring by planting an herb
garden. Okay, fine, so every year I realize the May long-weekend is
approaching and I really have to get some plants in my
garden, so I send my husband to the nursery with a list of herbs I
want. When he gets home, he also plants them for me when I pout
about how bad I am at gardening, because he's the best husband
ever. This year, I decided to go heavy on the basil, because it's
the herb I use most: I planted regular basil, Thai basil, lemon
basil, and purple basil. Also featured in my backyard herb garden:
oregano, summer sage, thyme, parsley, French tarragon, and
My herbs all seem to thrive with very little care, which is a
good thing since I'm no green thumb. But I am an avid at-home chef,
and my recipes never taste better than when they're made with fresh
herbs from my summer garden.
Most nights, I'll grab some fresh tomatoes from the garden once
they've ripened, and slice them on a plate with leaves of fresh
basil on top. A twist of pepper, a grind of sea salt, and a drizzle
of extra virgin olive oil, and I've got summer on a plate in less
than a minute. For the most simple summer dinner ever, pair a
tomato salad (add shaved parmesan or sliced bocconcini if you'd
like) with Thai Basil Butter and Baguette. For something
a little more complicated, but totally worth it, try these Seafood Brochettes with Tomato-Basil Cream
Sauce (I made them for a dinner party I hosted last week, and
truly, everyone thought I was a culinary genius!).
At the end of the summer, when my basil is about to go to seed,
I harvest it all and make loads of pesto, which I freeze in single portions for a
taste of summer all year round.
Sage is the perfect addition to butter for baguette, vegetables,
and especially corn on the cob. I also slide it under the skin of
chickens I roast, or wrap it around pieces of meat which I then
thread onto skewers and barbecue. For an Italian-style appetizer
that's beyond compare, try Fried Sage with Anchovies.
Thyme is delicious with pork, chicken, or fish (especially
trout), and also vinaigrettes and marinades, but I also recently
tried it in this Thyme CrÃ¨me Brule recipe and was pleasantly
surprised by the sophisticated flavour (again, I was mistaken for a
culinary genius by my dinner guests, which is always a welcome
Tarragon is a favourite of mine, mostly because I have a
weakness for bÃ©arnaise sauce and love whipping up a
homemade batch and serving it with Grilled Porterhouse Steak and Grilled Asparagus with Parsley Pesto. I
especially like the asparagus recipe because it helps me use up
some of my fast-growing parsley.
Parsley and oregano are my standbys for pasta sauce, of course,
and sometimes I add them to my tomato salads for a change. But I
also find they're my favourite herbs for making a crust with. This
Oregano-Crusted Lamb is one of my favourites,
and I add parsley to both the lamb and the potatoes, even though it
doesn't call for it. Just trust me! If you're not a fan of lamb,
try it with pork.
Although I don't generally cook with my lavender, but instead
dry it in bunches and use it in sachets to freshen up drawers and
closets, I did mix it with homemade vanilla ice cream last year,
and also, tried it with Sable Cookies. I was thrilled with the subtle
and delicate taste result.
Ultimately, when it comes to summer cooking, having an herb
garden is a secret weapon I'd highly recommend adding to your
gourmet arsenal. Once the season ends, harvest your surplus herbs
and make batches of flavoured oils, vinegars and herbed pestos so
you can get creative in the kitchen the entire year.
Plum Lovin'-How to make great summer desserts with plums
(and preserve the rest for fall)
Marissa Stapley Ponikowski is a freelance writer, editor and
author who lives in Toronto with her husband and two children. She
writes about food, beauty, wellness and green living for a variety
of magazines and web sites. Her first novel, Saving the World
(in Sensible Shoes), will be published this spring. For
updates, visit www.marissastapley.com.