Using Herbs with Abandon

Italian Salsa VerdeIf I didn’t already have a list of reasons I need lots of herbs in my life, Italian Salsa Verde (green sauce) alone would be enough to convince me. It’s delicious on almost anything. Take my dinner tonight: salsa verde is outstanding on steak and takes long-cooked kale up a notch. And when I got a little on my baked potato with sour cream, it was no longer a plain old baked potato. It was sublime.

But salsa verde is just one use for the many herbs out there. In my garden alone I have tarragon, marjoram, chives, thyme, lovage, sage, oregano, and savory at my fingertips. The basil, dill, rosemary, and lemongrass aren’t far behind.

The herb garden is booming. I am reckless with how much I cut and I use the minced leaves with abandon in my cooking. It’s like it rains cilantro or parsley onto each and every plate. Call me a romantic, but I can’t imagine not having these aromatics just outside my kitchen door or at least at my side. Growing and using fresh herbs makes me feel like I am more than a good cook. It is extremely satisfying in a self-reliant way.

Besides, I can’t tell you how many times I have kicked myself for buying herbs in the plastic clamshell. I’ve been gardening for some 15 years, so I buy them rarely — generally only in the deep dark depths of winter when their bright sunshiny taste is most tempting. But it really irks me when I do.

This year I managed to keep control of myself. I avoided paying too much or feeling remorseful during the walk of shame to the register. Am I the only one who feels a sense of guilt for buying these? In addition to the high price, I also feel guilty because of the clamshell packaging. I feel the same way about salad greens packaged in this same manner. I know for certain that I don’t feel this way when I buy a small bouquet of herbs or a head of lettuce. Am I right in feeling that herbs and vegetables in clamshells seem unnatural?

Imagine that part of your prep is grabbing a pair of scissors and heading to the back door. A small basket in one hand, bees buzzing around the herbs that have blossomed, you run your hand through the lavender, bring your hand to your nose, and inhale the deep aroma. Any tensions or stress you might have drift away with the gentle breeze.

One of the best things about herbs, besides being edible, is that anyone, no matter their locale, can grow them. Even the most adamant of city dwellers can have a pot or two on the window making their apartment smell wonderful. Those who live in suburban subdivisions with manicured lawns and association rules can sneak a few into the landscape since many herbs make great ground cover and have beautiful flowers. If all else fails, there is always an herb guy at the greenmarket peddling little bundles of herbs, the good stuff tied with twine or rubber bands that emits an aroma that gets all Pavlov on you.

In other words I can’t think of a single reason not to use fresh herbs, in everything and with abandon. As if I needed further convincing, Italian salsa verde remedies any doubts I might have.

Grilled Sirloin with Italian Salsa Verde

Italian Salsa Verde (Makes  1/2 cup plus)

2 teaspoons marjoram, minced

3 tablespoons Italian flat leaf parsley, minced

1 teaspoon garlic smear

1 tablespoon Fresno pepper, minced or other hot pepper

1 tablespoon capers, minced

1 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

4 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

  1. To make the garlic smear place your cutting board on a non-skid surface or make it so the board doesn’t slide around. Mince the garlic. Sprinkle the garlic with a pinch of salt. The salt is important because it becomes the grit that breaks down the garlic but you don’t need more then a pinch. Using the broad side of your knife, apply downward pressure and smear the garlic back and forth to make a paste. Think of an old time barber sharpening a razor on a leather strap, back and forth back and forth until the little chunks become a paste.
  2. Place all the herbs into a bowl or a mortar and using the back of a spoon or a pestle bruise the herbs to break out the oils. Add the lemon juice and garlic smear. Finally add the oil and black pepper and stir to combine. Taste and add more salt if needed. I find it best to let the salsa sit for an hour before I want to use it. Stored in the fridge it is good for a day or two but make sure to bring it to room temperature before serving.

5 comments on “Using Herbs with Abandon

  1. This sounds lovely. In the heat of summer when all my herbs are at their peak I make large quantities of all sorts of salsa verde (pestos). If you cover them with good olive oil, not only do they keep well for weeks in the fridge, but you can also freeze them in ice-cube trays and you never need to buy clamshell herbs in the deep dark of winter again. These ‘pestos’ taste much more flavorful than simply freezing the herbs.

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