Cooking with fresh herbs is like icing a cake. Say you’ve made this delicious carrot cake and it is really good. Now, you spread on the luscious cream cheese icing and really good just transformed into really great! Using fresh herbs in your recipes will complete the dish … it’s the icing on the cake.
This past weekend I attended a class at my local Williams-Sonoma store, appropriately called “Cooking with Herbs”. (Each month they offer in-store-classes and demonstrations). The highlight of the hour long class was Leza Carter, founder of Tucson Village Farm. TVF, a program of the University of Arizona and Pima County Extension is a working urban farm by and for youth. This seed-to-table program was designed to reconnect young people to a healthy food system. A child can plant the seeds, watch it grow, harvest the wheat, mill it and then turn it into pizza dough. How great is that! A program that teaches our children how to grow and prepare fresh food and empower them to make healthy choices should be commended. Keep up the good work Leza!
Cooking with herbs may seem a little intimidating at first, but I have some tips to get you started. The next time you’re in the grocery store or a farmer’s market, choose herbs that look bright, healthy and fragrant. Avoid those with wilted or yellowed leaves. When you get them home, wrap in damp paper towels, then wrap in a plastic bag and refrigerate (they should keep 3-5 days). For long-stemmed herbs like parsley, cilantro and basil, I trim off the ends, remove the lower leaves (that would be in the water) and put them in small vases or juice glasses (like a bouquet of flowers). Not only do they look nice on the counter, the fragrance inspires me to cook.
The flavor of fresh herbs fades quickly when heated, so for most recipes you should add them at the last minute. Alternatively, sprinkle them on top of the finished dish at the end of cooking. Of course, their will be exceptions to this, like when you stuff poultry with rosemary or wrap sage in meat rolls, as in Saltimbocca.
An easy way to experiment with different herbs is to make a compound butter. Compound butter is a mixture of fresh herbs and softened butter. Using just a small pat of this flavored butter adds inimitable flavor and moisture as it melts on beef, chicken, fish and veggies.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, chopped
1/2 tablespoon chives, chopped
1 teaspoon shallots, finely chopped
Season with salt and pepper to taste
In a small bowl, stir together butter, parsley, chives and shallot until well combined.
Season with salt and pepper.
Top each serving of meat or vegetables with some of the compound butter (I use about a tablespoon per chicken breast) and serve immediately.
If you need a larger quantity, make it into a roll and wrap in wax paper twisting the ends, store in refrigerator. (It will be easier to cut exactly what you need).