Sage growing in my garden.
Happy New Year! I hope this blog posting finds you happy, healthy, and looking forward to a new year with hope.
As you may already know, I love to cook. I am not formally trained although I was taught by some of the best; the women and men in my family that have meant the most to me. I am speaking of my grandmothers, my mother, my in-laws, and my husband, who is fantastic with all things on the barbeque. We are quite the team he and I; I plan, prep, and create and then hand off the proteins and sometimes vegetables for him to barbeque. He has the magic touch!
Every established cook eventually settles into a style of cooking, or a flavor profile, that suits their palette. Since I am Italian, much of my cooking takes an Italian-style flavor profile. My “go to” ingredients are always olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, and onions. But hands down, can’t live without, culinary secret weapon, is herbs. Herbs are in just about everything I cook…sweet and savory.
Now I am not talking about dried bottled herbs that you purchase at Safeway. No, I am talking about fresh organic herbs from my garden. In my opinion, dried herbs lack the brightness and boldness of flavor that fresh herbs provide. I have quite the treasure trove of herbs in my garden and I am always looking for new herbs to purchase at nurseries. Depending on the time of year, I cook dishes dependent on what is growing in my herb garden.
Bay leaves ready to be tossed into soup, stew,or with grilled steak. Countless recipes use bay leaves.
Growing and usable in my garden in January I have rosemary, bay, marjoram, oregano, thyme, sage, and parsley. These herbs are not bothered too much by our wet winter with frequent frosty nights that we have in northern California. This January has been constant sunshine, which is completely unheard of at time of year. But it has provided warm days this month and my herbs are really thriving…as well as all my spring bulbs and plants that are quite confused!
Every night, while I am preparing dinner for my family, I head out into my garden to snip some herbs. I enjoy mixing a blend of fresh herbs. And depending on whether I am cooking vegetarian, fish, chicken, or red meat, I choose herbs accordingly. I enjoy adding fresh-snipped herbs to salads, rice, pasta, soups, stews, over vegetables, as well as in desserts and baked goods. Many herbs, such as mint, lemon verbena, lavender and stevia, are best suited for sweet dishes.
Oregano blossoms…the best part of the plant.
After washing the herbs please note that it is important to dry them. Herbs have many small leaves that are necessary to take off the stem before chopping. Wet herbs make for difficult chopping because they are basically water logged and the kitchen knife will not be able to chop properly. After washing the herbs, I lay the herbs on a kitchen towel in a parallel manner. I then roll up the kitchen towel and press the herbs in the roll. This does a very good job at drying the herbs. I then de-stem the herbs into a mixed pile on my wood cutting board and chop them with my kitchen knife. It is a breeze.
With a large mound of chopped herbs on the cutting board for the evening’s dinner prep, I ultimately throw them into everything I am cooking that night as well as finish off the dishes as a garnish. So beautiful!
One of my all time favorite dishes to feature herbs is my barbequed steak. I usually choose a large porterhouse steak that can feed the three of us. Then I create an herb paste, which includes olive oil, minced garlic, sea salt, fresh ground pepper, and chopped rosemary, oregano, sage, and finally, two bay leaves. Bay leaves are never chopped; they are added whole to any dish you want them to impart flavor. Once the dish is completely cooked, the bay leaves are removed and discarded. I add all these ingredients to a deep dish (1-2 inches) and mash together the paste with the back of a fork to incorporate the paste well. I then add the steak to the paste, spreading the herb paste evenly on both sides utilizing all the herbs and garlic, and then I cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for up to four hours. Quantity of time is important, but I have let the steak marinate both longer and shorter than four hours. It still works out and is delicious!
Grilled steak with herbs.
My husband will prepare the coals in the barbeque and when ready, he will grill the steak to medium rare, the way we like our streak cooked. Frequently, I will also give him a zip lock bag chocked full with bite size cut up vegetables, such as red onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, zucchini, etc., what ever is in the crisper. I will add the same herbs that are already chopped, a little olive oil, a minced garlic clove, and some salt and pepper. My husband will then grill them over the open flame in a bbq vegetable basket. They are absolutely delicious with the steak!
Don’t let winter keep you away from your garden if possible. Get out there and enjoy the herbs that can live through the winter in your area. And if your garden is covered with snow, thank goodness the markets are stocked with fresh herbs too…one doesn’t have to live without. And while you are at it, why not break out the grill too….grilling doesn’t have to be just a summer activity!
HERB PASTE FOR GRILLED PORTERHOUSE STEAKS Serves 4
2 large Porterhouse Steaks
4 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Tuscan Style)
4 medium size garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon of sea salt
¾ teaspoon of fresh ground pepper
1 Tablespoon of fresh de-stemmed rosemary leaves
1 Tablespoon of fresh oregano buds or leaves
6 fresh large sage leaves
4 fresh bay leaves
Select a deep dish large enough to hold the two steaks with our them touching. Pour extra virgin olive oil into the the deep dish and add the garlic, sea salt, pepper, and all the herbs. With the back of a dinner fork, mash these ingredients together to make a think paste that is well incorporated together. Add the two steaks and coat both sides of the steak with the olive oil herb paste. Place one bay leaf on each side of the steak. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours.
Prepare barbecue and grill steaks to desired temperature. Let meat stand on cutting board for 5 minutes to rest before de-boning the meat and slicing for serving.