My vegetable garden is coming alive! I have planted too many tomatoes again, eggplant, crooked neck squash, lemon cucumber, arugula, string beans, cantaloupe, and a few varieties of peppers. Oh, and lets not forget, my precious herbs! Every night while I am preparing dinner, I walk to my vegetable garden to pick my evening’s vegetables and snip a small bouquet of herbs that I will use to prepare our dinner. This simple task is one of the great joys for the avid cook. There is nothing greater than cooking with fresh herbs!
I have quite a few herbs in my vegetable garden. Right now, the fennel, chives, and marjoram are at peak, as well as nasturtiums, which are beautiful edible flowers that are exquisite in a salad.
This antique water pump adorns my herb garden. My father brought the water pump home with him and placed it in my parents’ garden many years ago when I was a young girl…perhaps 8 years old. My mom gave it to me some years ago and I have fondly placed it in my garden. It reminds me of my dear father Tim every time I look at it. When I was a girl I used to play with it. I would cram the running hose into it and pump the handle up and down fast while catching the water in a waiting bucket. I would then go water the flowers in my mother’s garden. I would pretend the water came from a well or deep in the ground. Silly but true. Funny the things we remember.
My fennel plant has grown its large bulbs of delicious goodness and are ready for harvest. I enjoy braising fennel bulbs for a vegetable side dish or thinly slicing them raw and serving with a vinaigrette. The raw fennel bulb has a sweet anise taste and is quite refreshing. The beautiful fronds of the plant smell absolutely heavenly. I like using the fronds when I am cooking a whole fish, such as branzino. I open the cavity of the fish, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, lay thin sliced lemon rounds on the flesh of the fish, add a lot of the fennel fronds into the cavity, and then drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil. I tie it up with string and then drizzle with a little more extra virgin olive oil and grill the fish on the BBQ. The fennel and lemon rounds are to be discarded before serving. So delicious!
The chives are long and lush green, adorned with beautiful purple flowers standing tall above the leaves. I love eating fresh snipped chives two special ways. First, on top of smoked salmon on fresh bagels and cream cheese, and second, over my scrambled eggs, topped with a couple of slow roasted tomatoes and a dollop of sour cream. Delicious!
And then there is marjoram…the demure cousin of oregano. Marjoram is milder than oregano, therefore is a delicious herb with fish and chicken. It is very nice freshly snipped into salads, and makes for a nice addition to finish sauces. I enjoy marjoram chopped and added to a marinade of extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, fresh garlic, and salt and pepper for chicken. Then simply grilled.
Marjoram and oregano is best harvested when your plant blooms as you can see in the above photo. These flower buds are the best part of the herb to use. It will not hold the entire summer for you to use fresh; the branches with the blossoms will die. So when my plants grow to this stage I harvest the whole plant. I cut the tall branches off down to the low plant itself. I gather the branches into a large bouquet, and then I tie the cut ends together with twine. I then wash the branches and shake off the excess water and then let the bunch dry in the open air outside. I then wrap a brown paper bag around it to keep any dirt or dust off, close the bag off with staples, and hang it upside down from the rafters in the garage to dry. Once it is completely dry, I remove the blossoms from the stems by rubbing the blossom ends of the stems between my hands. I do this over a large cooking sheet to catch the falling crumbled blossoms. I store them in a ziplock bag or in jars and use the dried herb year round.
If you are not using fresh herbs in your cooking, give it a try. The taste is quite different from using all dried herbs. And if you don’t have the space for a designated herb garden, herbs are just as happy, and beautiful, in your regular garden beds, rubbing elbows with your flowers and shrubs. Enjoy…and happy cooking!