Elevate sweet and savory dishes with fresh herbs
Years ago when I heard a chef say that a $10 dish could become a $30 dish simply by adding fresh herbs, I was instantly hooked on the idea of growing my own. I was familiar with mint, which my Aunt Belle always added to her pitcher of homemade lemonade that she and I often enjoyed sitting under the ancient oak tree in her backyard. Her sister, Tante Mae, kept flat-leaf parsley in a small pot in her kitchen window. Gumbos, rice dressing, jambalaya and chicken fricassee were always garnished with the herb, which she explained added not only flavor and color but also aided in digestion.
As I happily skipped along in my culinary career, I became enamored by the flavor of fresh sweet basil added to Italian sauces. Basil, a member of the mint family, also added aroma and zest to a caprese salad composed of thick slices of tomatoes and mozzarella cheese drizzled with a tangy vinaigrette dressing.
Roasted chicken, a Sunday favorite of mine, was enhanced by the addition of thyme to the pot. A few leaves of lemon thyme sometimes found its way into my gin and tonic. Tarragon is a necessary ingredient in making béarnaise sauce. Rosemary, chives, dill and cilantro are mainstays in my herb garden.
Now that warmer weather has arrived, it’s time to enjoy a leisurely alfresco supper , accented with fresh herbs, of course, to enjoy on my screen porch overlooking Bayou Teche.
1. Place 1 cup fine bulgur (No. 1) into a large glass or ceramic dish and stir in 1 cup of lemon juice and 2 cups water. Cover bowl and set aside at room temperature until most of the liquid has been absorbed and bulgur is tender, about 2 hours.
2. Drain bulgur in a sieve, gently pressing to remove excess liquid. Transfer to a clean glass bowl and add 3 bunches scallions (trimmed and chopped), 3 cups chopped parsley (about 2 bunches), 3 large ripe tomatoes (chopped), ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil and ⅓ cup lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir to blend.
3. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
Roasted Chicken With Garlic
Accompaniments can be as simple as leaves of Bibb lettuce dressed with a Dijon mustard-based vinaigrette and toasted French bread, or steamed asparagus sprinkled with minced hard-boiled eggs.
2 chickens, each about 3 1/2 pounds, quartered
¼ cup olive oil
3 sprigs of fresh rosemary (or tarragon or thyme)
2 teaspoons salt (more or less to taste)
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne
3 heads of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
2 cups Vouvray wine
There were not many Sunday dinners at my mother’s that didn’t include roasted chicken.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, toss chicken and oil to coat evenly. Arrange chicken pieces in a single layer in a large roasting pan. Pinch off the leaves from sprigs of rosemary and sprinkle evenly over chicken. Sprinkle with salt, black pepper and cayenne.
Scatter and tuck garlic cloves over and in between chicken pieces. Pour in wine. Cover the pan tightly with a lid or foil. Bake for about 1 hour or until the juices run clear. Uncover the pan and baste chicken with pan juices. Continue baking until the skin of chicken becomes lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes.
Serve immediately with garlic cloves and pan juices.
Makes 8 servings
To store herbs in the refrigerator, slightly dampen (sprinkle) paper towels with water. Loosely roll the herbs in the towels and store in the crisper.
1. Beat 1 cup butter (softened) at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add ¾ cup sifted confectioners sugar and ¼ cup cornstarch, beating well. Stir in 1¾ cups all-purpose flour and 1 tablespoon finely chopped 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. Cut dough into 8 wedges but do not separate.
3. Repeat the procedure with remaining dough. Cover and chill for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake for about 30 minutes or until barely brown. Cool for 5 minutes on baking sheet then remove wedges to a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes 16 wedges