Patti Bess: Herb garden memories | TheUnion.com

Patti Bess: Herb garden memories

Patti Bess
Columnist

We'd be hard pressed to find someone (at least in my generation) who doesn't remember that haunting melody and the young man reminiscing about his true love from the Scarborough Faire.

Hearing the song on the radio the other day reminded me this is a perfect time to make plans to create the herb garden you've always wanted, or the one I/you might need to rejuvenate.

It is hard to imagine cooking without the unique flavors of herbs. Some; like thyme, marjoram and bay; dry successfully. But most are at their best when they are young and freshly picked so it is well worth your time to plant a few.

Many herbs are easy to grow in our region and flourish with little attention if you give them a good sunny spot. They attract bees and butterflies not to mention all their beneficial qualities in addition to flavor.

I have a couple rules about planting an herb garden learned the hard way.

First, herbs need to be planted near the kitchen door. I have to admit my sage and basil planted in our orchard were less likely to make it to the dinner plate when I had to walk downhill to pick them.

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Second, you can't be slavish about following recipe recommendations on amounts to use. Herbs vary in strength of flavor as well as your own sensitivities and should be adjusted accordingly.

Here are few herbs I consider essential.

Essential herbs for your garden

Parsley. I grow this herb primarily for a very practical reason. I hate buying a bunch and using a few sprigs while the remaining purchase lies lost in the back of the refrigerator until it wilts.

A six-pack of parsley from the nursery is a good beginning, and if you allow the plants to flower and go to seed they will return every year.

Rosemary. For centuries it has been thought of as the herb for improving memory. Crush a few leaves in your hand and inhale the aroma; you can feel your head clear. It is also the easiest to grow and most drought tolerant plant in the garden.

Rosemary enhances breads or herb butters and is delicious with grilled meats, vegetables and marinades.

Sage. Sage was used for medicinal purposes as early as the Romans.

Plant it in a hot sunny location and you'll always have extra to give to a friend. Most of us think basil and tomatoes are the perfect flavor marriage but sage with tomatoes, especially on pizza with garlic and mozzarella, is melt in your mouth delicious. Use it for more than just dressings and poultry.

Tarragon. One of my favorite go-tos, it adds a somewhat mysterious flavor to salmon, soups and vegetables — a subtle licorice like flavor. This plant also needs to be refreshed, and a new one added every few years.

Marjoram. Memories of sautéed summer squash topped with a Marjoram pesto makes me wish I wasn't sitting next to a fire. It's probably best to add a second plant of marjoram to the garden a couple years after the first one as it tends to diminish in vitality.

The following recipe I took from Debra Madison's, "Local Flavors."

Happy planting and renewed cooking fun when the spring is finally upon us.

Marjoram pesto with capers and olives

1 small slice hearty country bread

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup marjoram leaves

3 tablespoons drained capers

1/2 cup pine nuts

3/4-1 cup finely chopped parsley

3 tablespoons pitted Greek olives

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Remove the crusts from the bread, then soak it in the vinegar on a plate.

Pound the garlic with a half teaspoon salt in a mortar until smooth, then work in the marjoram, capers, pine nuts, parsley, and olives until you have a coarse puree. Add the bread and the olive oil and work until the pesto is well blended. Season with pepper; then taste for the vinegar and add more if you think it needs it. Pesto will be quite thick.

Fresh fettuccine with lemon, herbs and Parmesan

10 ounces of fresh fettuccine or spaghetti noodles

Generous pinch of salt

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

4-8 cloves garlic

3 tablespoons chopped marjoram and thyme leaves, stems removed (or use chives, basil or tarragon)

1/2 cup chopped parsley

A few shakes of red pepper flakes (optional)

Juice of half a lemon

Salt and fresh ground pepper

About 3/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Bring water to a boil in a large stockpot; add a generous pinch of salt and stir in the pasta. Return the pot to a boil, stirring frequently and cook 5-7 minutes until pasta is al dente. Drain pasta in a colander and set aside.

In a separate saucepan add the olive oil and gently stir fry the minced garlic for 2 minutes. Add the marjoram and thyme, lemon juice, salt and peppers (if desired). Sauté for an additional 2 minutes. Then stir in the parsley.

Return sauce and pasta to a pot to warm through and add the Parmesan cheese at the table.

Makes four first course servings or enough for two people.

Patti Bess is a cookbook author and freelance writer from Grass Valley. She can be reached for comments or suggestions at bess.pattia@gmail.com.