De la cuisine: The Herbalist

Fresh herbs transform seasonal dishes

This is the time of year I plan meals around what I can find in my garden or at local farmers markets. Fresh herbs — sweet basil, mint, thyme, rosemary, oregano, chives, lemon balm — are flourishing. Creole tomatoes are abundant at the farmers markets and my tomatoes (green, red, orange and purple) as small as marbles are thriving on the vines. The warm weather makes it ideal to dine alfresco either on my big, screened-in porch overlooking Bayou Teche or on my patio made lush with ferns and semi-tropical plants.


TIP

Serve the rosemary shortbread with macerated seasonal berries such as blackberries, blueberries and strawberries.


STARTER

Tomato Soup with Basil

❶ Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large saucepan pot over medium-high heat. Add 1 link sweet Italian sausage (removed from the casing and crumbled) and cook, stirring, until it is browned, about 10 minutes. Add 1 large leek (white and pale green parts only, well rinsed and thinly sliced), 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1 medium rib celery (thinly sliced) and 1 cup chopped yellow onion and cook, stirring, until vegetables are lightly golden, about 10 minutes.  

❷ Add a pinch or two of sugar, 2 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes (peeled, seeded and chopped) and 3 cups beef broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and cook until mixture thickens, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for about 10 minutes.  

➌ Puree soup in batches in a food processor or blender. Return to pot. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Heat soup over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves and hot sauce to taste (optional). When soup has heated through, about 5 minutes, serve garnished with basil.

Makes 6 servings


MAIN COURSE

Shrimp Scampi, My Way

This is easy to put together if you have all of your ingredients measured out and at hand. The French refer to this as “la mise en place.” (Everything in its place.)
2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
¾ pound linguini or angel hair pasta
1½ sticks butter
2 tablespoons minced garlic
¾ cup white wine
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon cayenne
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons minced chives
pinch or two freshly-ground black pepper

Cook linguini or angel hair pasta, drain (reserving ½ cup of pasta water) and set aside. Toss pasta with pasta water to prevent it from sticking together.

In a large skillet, heat butter over medium heat. Add garlic, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add wine and cook, stirring, over medium heat until it reduces by half, about 5 minutes.

Add cream and whisk to blend. Add shrimp and cook until they turn pink, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt, cayenne and black pepper.

To serve, drain pasta (if there is extra liquid with the pasta), then combine it with sauce, tossing to coat evenly. Garnish with parsley and chives.


DESSERT

ROSEMARY SHORTBREAD

Rosemary is very aromatic and can be intense but I think you’ll find this rosemary-flavored shortbread a real treat.  

① Beat 1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar, (sifted) and ¼ cup cornstarch, beating well. Stir in 1¾ cups all-purpose flour and 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary. Dough will be stiff.

② Divide dough in half. Shape one portion of dough into a 6 ½-inch circle on an ungreased baking sheet. Crimp edges with a fork. Gently cut the dough into 8 wedges, but do not separate.

③ Repeat procedure with remaining dough. Cover and chill for 1 hour.

④ Bake at 300 F for 30 minutes, or until barely browned. Cool for 5 minutes on baking sheets, then gently remove wedges to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 16 wedges


 

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