Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Herb Me

For the majority of my life the herbaceous notes I added to a dish came from a vendor, tied in bundles with twine, wire or rubber bands. I could never be sure how long they took to get to my kitchen – in the winter months it was a sure bet that they were long traveled before getting plucked by me. I attempted windowsill gardening, with more or less marginal results. I am an herb fanatic adhering to the philosophy: when in doubt toss in some more. I am clearly attached to fresh, verdant, scented leaves. Dried herbs have very little place in my cooking life with the exception of dried hyssop, which is part of my z’aatar blend, or lavender buds which get dried to be used well beyond its limited season.

The unfortunate part of loving to use herbs is that they really don’t have the greatest shelf life – basil seems to start wilting as soon as it’s taken from the earth and cilantro can go slimy awfully quickly. I am in the habit of purchasing herbs at the farmer’s markets getting bunches that were at least not already beyond pleasure. I would store these herbs in cups with just enough water to keep them perky never covering them in plastic so condensation does not start breaking down the leaves. Rosemary, thyme, oregano and mint have lasted the longest under these conditions. These days I don’t worry about my herbs going off in the refrigerator, no now, I obsess about them bolting and flowering.

I always thought I had a black thumb but in reality my windowsill that faced north just wasn’t bright enough and the truth is these aromatic weeds have proven relatively easy to propagate.

No longer am I buying bunches I get to capriciously decide what I am in the mood for, and just slip out through the screened-in porch with my snipping shears. There, in view from the kitchen window, is my herbal potager. In a 10x3 feet raised planter; sorrel for that ever so sour pucker; loveage and mistuba offer alternatives to celery and parsley, respectively. Basics like sage, thyme and chives give easy snips. At the one end, which is kept damp, Vietnamese cilantro flourishes while a leafy wasabi varietal and watercress are experimental this year. And, this is just a fraction of the edible, fragrant plants scattered around the gardens. From 5 different basils to summer savory to borage and bergamot I am able to perfume a dish on a whim and a whiff.

Smashed New Potatoes­ - yields 6 servings
2½-pounds small new potatoes - such as yukon gold, red bliss or purple Peruvian
3 to 4 garlic cloves - sliced paper thin
1-tablepsoon chopped - summer savory
1-tablespoon chopped thyme
1-tablspoon chopped rosemary
1-tablespoon chopped mint
Zest of 1 lemon
½-cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the potatoes in a 4 quart pot and cover with cold water along with 2-teaspoons of salt. Bring the potatoes to the boil and cook the potatoes until fork tender, about 20 minutes.

In a work bowl, large enough to hold the potatoes, mix together the garlic, herbs, lemon zest, oil, and pepper to taste.

 Once the potatoes are cooked, drain them and then using a large spoon or a spatula lightly smash each potato to just have them split open. Place them in the work bowl and toss the hot potatoes with the oil mixture to coat well. Serve the potatoes immediately or serve at room temperature.


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