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The Herbfarm Cookbookby Jerry Traunfeld
When I first learned to cook, at age eleven, my mother kept herbs in jars, alphabetically arranged on a shelf. I was taught to apportion these dusty-smelling powders and flakes with the precision of a chemist — one teaspoon of oregano in the tomato sauce, one-quarter teaspoon of tarragon in the vegetable soup, one-half teaspoon of sage with the chicken — as if alchemy would occur when a recipe's formula was followed perfectly. It never occurred to me then that we could grow all these herbs in our backyard, and I had no idea how they looked or smelled before they were dried, processed, and packaged. At the time, the only fresh herb in the supermarket was parsley.
Now fresh herbs are everywhere. More often than not the word "fresh" precedes thyme, tarragon, or basil in recipes we see in print. Freshly cut sprigs of all common herbs are available year-round in supermarkets across the nation. Farmers' markets are flooded with lush bunches of locally grown herbs, and garden centers and specialty nurseries are packed with potted herbs from angelica to verbena. More and more backyards have oregano and dill planted next to the tomatoes, and pots of chives and rosemary are replacing the petunias on the patio or terrace. This availability is making a fundamental change in the way we cook.
The flavor of a fresh herb has little in common with what comes in a jar. Taste a few flakes of dry tarragon and they will seem little more than mild and musty. Then taste a leaf of fresh tarragon, just picked from the garden; it will be sweet and peppery and fill your mouth with a punchy anise flavor underscored with green savoriness. Stir a coarsely chopped spoonful of the fresh leaves into a braising pan of chicken and its flavor will permeate the juices and flavor the chicken itself. Next, compare a spoonful of dried basil with a bunch of fresh Genovese basil from the farmers' market. The flakes are insipid and lifeless, but the complex layering of mint, clove, anise, and cinnamon scents that waft from the fresh sprigs is so enticing you'll want to bury yourself in them. Pound the leaves in a mortar with garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, and you'll have fragrant, unctuous pesto, the nonpareil pasta sauce.
Fresh herbs offer an astounding palette of vibrant and glorious tastes, but their delights go beyond the flavors they lend to food. For a cook, there is joy in simply handling fresh herbs in the kitchen. Who can resist stroking the proud sticky needles of rosemary, rubbing a plush sage leaf, or crushing a crinkled leaf of verdant mint between their fingers? When you strip the fragrant leaves off sweet marjoram or tuck a few sprigs of shrubby thyme in a simmering stew, you feel connected to the soil and the season, no matter where your kitchen is.
I have the opportunity all chefs dream of. As chef of The Herbfarm Restaurant in the lush, rainy foothills of the Cascade Mountains, I design nine-course menus for an intimate dining room surrounded by acres of kitchen gardens. If I need a bunch of chives, a bucket of chervil, or a leaf of rose geranium, I pick it right outside. Over the course of my nine years at The Herbfarm and many years of herb gardening in my own backyard in Seattle, I've come to know each herb as an old friend, and they have offered me endless inspiration. I've written this book to share what I have learned about these soul-stirring ingredients with those who love to cook at home.
Copyright © 2000 by Jerry Traunfeld
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Cooking and Food » By Ingredient » Herbs and Spices