October 28th, 2012
by janet

by Janet Clark

I blame my mother-in-law for my obsession with fresh herbs. Several years ago she surprised me with a potted basil plant, and I’ve never been the same since. I had always enjoyed using spices in my cooking, but I never knew what a difference using fresh herbs would make. Chopping a few basil leaves and adding them to spaghetti gives the dish verve far beyond what you get from mass-produced store-bought dried basil. The next year I planted enough herbs in my garden that I was able to harvest and dry them to use during the winter, and I discovered these home-dried herbs also had better flavor.

A couple of weeks ago our unseasonably warm weather came to a halt. We went from highs in the 80s to highs in the 50s and nighttime lows around 30. Before the temperatures dropped, I harvested the last of my herbs for one final pot of spaghetti sauce prepared with fresh basil, marjoram, oregano and rosemary. It’s a simple dish to fix: I just chop about a half an onion, some garlic cloves, half each a green pepper and red pepper, and sauté them in a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil (unless I’m cooking for a meat-eater and then I add a small amount of Italian sausage and leave out the vegetable oil.) I dump this into the crock pot with a 15-ounce can of tomato sauce and an 8-ounce can of tomato paste, plus a little water. I have found organic tomato sauce gives the spaghetti a much better flavor.

Then I add the herbs: about two tablespoons chopped basil and one and a half teaspoons each of chopped oregano and marjoram and about one teaspoon of rosemary. I add a pinch of sugar and cook at low heat for a few hours. Herbilicious!

Herbilicious might not be in the dictionary, but it really should be. Herbs can take a dish like baked chicken and transform it from bland to grand- all it takes is a little chopped rosemary and sage. They make a simple potato soup into a meal that everybody raves over: rosemary, sage, cardamom pods (I’ve got to buy that one since I don’t live in the right climate to grow it) and bay leaves make the difference.

This year I discovered I could grow herbs in my yard, even though it doesn’t get a lot of sunshine. I chose the sunniest spot available and, while my herbs didn’t grow as big as they did in my former very sunny backyard, they did grow and thrive, enough so that I was able to harvest and dry some to use this winter.

If you’ve never planted herbs in your garden or would like to expand on what you have, winter is a good time to start planning for the next growing season.

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