Tulips. The Easter Bunny. Flowered dresses. Clean closets.
Everyone welcomes spring -- which starts on March 20 this year -- in their own way.
For me, it’s time to start thinking about tomatoes.
In case you don’t already know this, I am a tomato snob. That is, I reject the perfectly formed, unblemished, bland, reddish-orangey blobs they sell in many supermarkets and offer up in salad bars. I also send back tomatoes in restaurants when they don’t smell or taste like the real thing.
I know I’m fortunate to live in a place with fantastic weather -- so fantastic, in fact, that we are readying our garden for the tomato plants we will pick up later this month and plant here in Silicon Valley. If all goes well, we should, in approximately 120 days, start enjoying a bounty of truly great tasting yellow (pear) and red (beefsteak, Early Girl, Roma) tomatoes.
To those of you who live in a similar clime, I encourage you to think about growing your own tomatoes, if you don’t already. If I can convince just one other person out there to grow their own tomatoes -- and to buy locally grown tomatoes when you have the chance -- I’ll feel like I’m doing my part to counter the negative effects of modern agribusiness on the tomato (you can read all about it in my essay on the topic, Confessions of a Tomato Snob.)
To those of you who may not be looking at planting a spring garden for a few more months, I offer my sympathies. I also have a suggestion: Herbs. Growing herbs is a lot easier than you think. Not only are they better tasting than the dried version, but you’ll also find that it will cost you a lot less than the fresh herbs you’ll find in most stores. Many nurseries now offer containers with a mix of herbs.
Here are five herbs I can’t do without -- and some suggestions for what to do with them.
Basil. Basil goes great with tomatoes, but also makes an excellent pizza topping and can enhance pre-made pasta sauce. But my favorite use of basil is to make pesto, which you can use on pasta and as a sandwich spread instead of mayonnaise. It’s pretty easy to make: Toss 2 cups of basil leaves into a food processor along with ½ cup of Parmesan cheese, 2 cloves of garlic, 1/3 cup of pine nuts (or walnuts if you prefer). Slowly add ½ cup of olive oil as the mixture is being processed. Then toss in a pinch of salt and pepper. Done.
Italian parsley. Never confuse the curly parsley used as a garnish with Italian flat-leaf parsley, a staple in Italian cooking. It goes into pasta sauces, soups, and salads. I also use it when I cook vegetables. Case in point: cut two green zucchinis into slices about ¼ inch thick and sauté in a small frying pan with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. The zucchini is done when it starts to brown. Toss in two teaspoons of fresh chopped Italian parsley and serve.
Rosemary. Fresh rosemary can be used in a wide variety of chicken and lamb dishes, or to perk up roasted potatoes. But I just like to add a teaspoon of chopped rosemary to a small saucer of olive oil -- and then serve it as a dipping sauce for crusty Italian bread. It doesn’t get easier than that.
Thyme. Thyme can also be used to enhance chicken and meat dishes. But I like to add it to rice. I make two cups of white rice (basmati usually, though any rice will do). While the rice is cooking, I dice an onion and cook it in two tablespoons of olive oil until it turns golden. Then add two teaspoons of freshly chopped thyme. Mix your onion-thyme mixture with the cooked rice. Enjoy.
Mint. Mint is one of the easiest herbs to grow. In my garden, it takes off like a weed. You can use mint as a garnish in drinks, but I’m a fan of peas with mint as an easy vegetable dish to accompany almost any meal. Just cook your peas (I usually sauté some chopped onions in olive oil until golden and then toss in frozen peas until they’re warmed through). When they’re done, toss in a teaspoon or two of fresh chopped mint. A friend of mine also pours some melted butter with chopped fresh mint over the sliced and steamed carrots her family enjoys. Very tasty. -- Connie Guglielmo
March 19, 2014
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Photo of basil courtesy of flickr user Matt Burris