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Issue 55 - Working with Flavours

Scotland Magazine Issue 55
February 2011

 

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Working with Flavours

Sue Lawrence delves into the herb garden and gives us some fresh and exciting recipes

Fresh herbs add flavour, colour, texture and vitality to any dish.

Now they are readily available in packets from supermarkets, delicatessens and even from your local corner shop. They can be bought in small pots, to sit on a sunny window-sill. You can buy packets of seed to plant in the garden. However you buy them, use herbs in abundance.

As a general rule, the more pungent and assertive flavours usually work better with equally dominant flavours. Although the marriage of game with thyme is traditional, why not try other strongly flavoured herbs, for a change: venison with oregano, marjoram or bay, for example. Or use a herb recently imported from the Far East, coriander, with rabbit, quail, shellfish or mushrooms.

Fish has endless possibilities which stretch far beyond the ubiquitous parsley sprig used to garnish Dover sole. What about combining cod with rosemary or good old fish pie with fennel. Shellfish and smoked fish can often blend with strong flavours: try mussels or prawns with oregano, or scallops with sweet cicely. Use smoked mackerel with sage, or smoked haddock with lovage or flatparsley.

‘Meaty’ fish such as fresh tuna works well with punchy chives, celery-flavoured lovage or even that archetypal lamb accompaniment, mint.

Vegetables, cheese and egg dishes work with most herbs, and indeed, simple, even bland, food such as scrambled eggs or omelettes, can be elevated to gourmet status by the addition of some freshly chopped herbs such as chervil, rocket, sorrel or tarragon. Mashed potatoes become a meal in themselves by stirring in basil or rocket pesto just before serving. A quick three minute omelette is made into an appetising feast by the addition of finely chopped tarragon, savory or parsley.

Thus, herbs play an intrinsic role both as enhancer of otherwise ordinary dishes, and as a flavouring.

Herbs can be the main ingredient too. Make a herb salad with both leaves and flowers tossed into welldressed salad leaves. Make pesto with coriander, mint, parsley or rosemary as a change from basil.

Make sharp, refreshing sorrel into a vibrant green and delicious soup.

Think of colour and texture. That most herbs are green is rather an obvious statement, but there are many shades of green. And of course, most of them change colour during cooking, invariably becoming darker and sometimes duller. You often find, therefore, that recipes stipulate the addition of freshly chopped herbs at the end of cooking, so as to preserve the freshness of the colour. Texture is also important: coarsely-textured rosemary should always be chopped very finely (unless you use very young leaves), or kept whole and removed at the end of the cooking.

Soft leaves such as tarragon and coriander can be chopped less vigorously, for their fine texture means they merge in easily with the other ingredients.

The freshness of herbs is of paramount importance. You can keep herbs, as I do, in large terracotta pots if garden space is at a premium. Basil, chives, coriander, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme can all be grown on a window-sill. Best of all is to pick or cut from your own garden pot, just when you are about to use them in the recipe. This is not always possible or practical. But everywhere today there are herbgrowers supplying the freshest of herbs to many outlets. In Scotland we are incredibly lucky to have Scotherbs, based between Perth and Dundee on the beautiful Carse of Gowrie. They grow every variety of herb you could possibly wish for and now deliver all over the country.

Once you have tried out some easy recipes with herbs, you’ll discover how pleasurable cooking with herbs can be. They provide colour, flavour and texture. They are healthy and invigorating; add them with gusto.

You can transform an ordinary meal into a memorable feast, proof enough of the inestimable value of the herb.
www.scotherbs.co.uk

Parsley soup

For this soup you use both leaf and stalk. Serve as it is or with some
shavings of parmesan
Serves 4

25g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled, chopped
2 sticks of celery, chopped
500 g / 1 lb 2 oz potatoes, peeled, chopped
1 large leek, washed, chopped
150 g / 5 oz parsley (flat or curly) stalks and leaves, washed
900 ml / 2 pints light chicken or vegetable stock, hot

Heat the butter and oil in saucepan then gently fry the onion, celery,
potatoes and leek for 10 minutes, then add the parsley (retaining some
leaves for pureeing), stock, ½ tsp salt and plenty ground pepper. Bring
to the boil, cover and simmer for 15 - 20 minutes or until tender.
Tip into a liquidiser with the remaining leaves, process until smooth
then check seasoning and serve piping hot with granary bread.

Salsa Verde

Serve with cold chicken, turkey or
beef; or with hot roast lamb or
grilled fish.

75g / 3 oz flat parsley
75g /3 oz mint
4 heaped tbsp capers
4 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
3 fat garlic cloves, peeled, chopped
50g tin of anchovies, drained, snipped
the juice of 1 large lemon
extra-virgin olive oil

Remove the leaves from the herbs and place in a food processor.
Retain the stems and stalks of the herbs. Add the capers, mustard,
garlic, anchovies and lemon juice and whiz until blended then add
about 6 tbsp oil and seasoning to taste.

Pesto

Toss some into freshly cooked
pasta or spread onto pizza dough
before topping with tomatoes
and mozzarella.

2 good handfuls fresh
basil leaves
2 garlic cloves,
peeled,chopped
50g / 2 oz grated
parmesan cheese
25g / 1 oz toasted pine nuts
extra virgin olive oil

Whizz everything together until
smooth, adding enough oil to
make a thick paste. Cover tightly
and refrigerate till required.