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Archive for Wednesday, July 29, 1998

HERBS PASS BROILER TEST

July 29, 1998

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For gardeners, one of the most vexing challenges during our recent blazing dry spell was to keep our herbs in condition for service in the kitchen. It doesn't take much time in a direct 100-degree sun to make even well-watered basil droop or to send dill and parsley into a bolt. Even my spearmint, which tends toward self-sufficiency and rarely asks for a hand watering, needed coaxing through last week.

However, in my gardening scheme, the loss of my herbs would have been as great a tragedy as if all my tomato plants had been scorched to death.

The reward of a summer garden is not only being able to eat produce straight off the vine but also being able to season it with freshly picked herbs. In quite a bit of the cooking I do in the summer, the fresh herbs make as great a contribution as the vegetables themselves.

The delightful thing about growing herbs is that because the plants tend to be more compact, we have more options about where to grow them. Someone who doesn't have space for a full-blown garden can easily grow herbs on the side of the patio. Herbs can be set into flower beds and interspersed with vegetables in the garden.

All of my herbs survived the heat wave and my only loss to premature bolting was a few dill plants. My parsley made it through because I had planted it up next to the horseradish, whose generous leaves provided shade from the broiling sun. Liberal waterings every day brought some new cilantro through in good shape and kept my sweet basil from being done in.

Although fresh herbs have become widely available in supermarkets and farmer's markets, they are like any other type of produce: The flavor diminishes as you get further away from the picking.

At this time of year, fresh herbs work well in salads and vegetable sautes. Basil and thyme are particularly compatible with the tomatoes and summer squash that now are in season.

Herbs also add a new dimension to meat and using them in this way doesn't have to be complicated: Try brushing grilled chicken or fish with basil pesto while it cooks or laying sprigs of rosemary across a roast before it goes into the oven.

Anyone who is serious about experimenting with herbs in the kitchen and wants guidance in cooking with a variety of herbs and their more esoteric variations should take a look at ``Recipes from a Kitchen Garden'' and ``More Recipes from a Kitchen Garden,'' both by Renee Shepherd (of Shepherd's Garden Seeds fame) and Fran Raboff (Ten Speed Press, $11.95 each).

These books offer recipes for flavored basils -- lemon, opal, anise, purple, cinnamon -- which often wind up as ornaments because gardeners don't know how to use them. You'll also find recipes for using squash blossoms and nasturtiums in summer dishes.

Following is a sample recipe from the first volume:

Marty's Basil-Rice Salad

Dressing

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

to be complicated: Try brushing grilled chicken or fish with basil pesto while it cooks or laying sprigs of rosemary across a roast before it goes into the oven.

Anyone who is serious about experimenting with herbs in the kitchen and wants guidance in cooking with a variety of herbs and their more esoteric variations should take a look at ``Recipes from a Kitchen Garden'' and ``More Recipes from a Kitchen Garden,'' both by Renee Shepherd (of Shepherd's Garden Seeds fame) and Fran Raboff (Ten Speed Press, $11.95 each).

These books offer recipes for flavored basils -- lemon, opal, anise, purple, cinnamon -- which often wind up as ornaments because gardeners don't know how to use them. You'll also find recipes for using squash blossoms and nasturtiums in summer dishes.

Following is a sample recipe from the first volume:

Marty's Basil-Rice Salad

Dressing

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

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