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Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, & Thyme

August 28, 2013

I’ve been inspired by one of my all-time favourite duos, Mr. Paul Simon and Mr. Art Garfunkel. Simon & Garfunkel have been rocking my world for quite some time now…and so it was natural for them to step in to help me sort the many herbs growing around campus. Simon & Garfunkel’s song titled Scarborough Fair explicitly states a list of herbs: parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Those four superstars are going to take the stage for this post.

Our first act, parsley (let me clarify: leaf parsley, not it’s root alternative) is native to the Mediterranean region, yet it has been widely used in other European, Middle Eastern, and American cooking. Parsley is often considered to be the world’s most popular herb, and most popularly associated with its role as a table garnish. It can be so much more than just a little garnish; it is highly nutritious and has a vibrant taste. Though parsley has been cultivated for thousands of years, it was originally employed as a medicine. The Greeks believed parsley to be a sacred food, only presenting it to victorious athletes. The name “parsley” even comes from it’s Greek past, as “parsley” means “rock celery” in Greek (exemplifying it’s familial relations to celery). It is unclear when parsley became popularized as a seasoning, but it sure is adored now. The preferred variety (curly leaf vs. Italian flat leaf, and the less common, root parsley) truly depends on the local area. The Italian variety has a much more intense and a less bitter taste as compared with its curly alternative. Either variety still contains the same multitude of nutritional benefits. This wonderfully fragrant biennial herb is rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. All these contribute to its ability to control blood-cholesterol, preventing constipation, and protecting the body from free-radicals. It is notably rich in Vitamin K, a vitamin that can promote osteotropic activity in the bones. Parsley also contains the essential oil, Eugenol which has historically been used as an anesthetic and anti-septic agent for teeth and gum diseases. Parsley is clearly so much more than its common spot as a sprinkle on a finished dish. So how can you get your hands on this herb? Parsley seed is notoriously slow to germinate, so I’d suggest soaking it in water over-night or even freezing the seed (to signal that winter is over). The seed is a breeze to grow after this germination process, but it will require the loving of plenty of sunshine and well-drained soil. If you keep the plant trimmed, it will continue to produce more leaves and become even bushier. To use, trim off the leaves. You can use them fresh or dry them for later. One really great way to use parsley is in Tabbouleh. A Michelle Mockus-approved recipe is attached here (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Lebanese-Tabbouleh-106589).

Sage pictured in the Dig In! Garden at U.T.S.U

Sage pictured in the Dig In! Garden at U.T.S.U

Act two: sage. Unlike parsley, sage sticks around for more than just two years; it’s a perennial plant that grows into a stocky, woody shrub that blooms wooly gray leaves and purple flowers every spring. The botanical name for sage is Salvia, which translates (from its Latin roots) to “to save or to heal.” The Arabs even associated sage with immortality. Now, sage may not be a herbal fountain of youth, but it is a herbal remedy that reduces gas (to relieve abdominal cramps and bloating), it can be a digestive aid, and it is also known as an appetite stimulant. Sage, like parsley, has anti-oxidant properties and the volatile oils in this herb kill bacteria (it is extremely useful for all types of bacterial infection). It also contains phytosterols, which provide natural cooling. It reduces swelling, diarrhea, excessive perspiration, and even lessens the symptoms of colds. It is one of the most medically versatile herbs, but it also delivers a very unique earthy freshness to a dish. There are a range of varieties of sage and it can be used in stuffing (my favourite way, my recipe for stuffing will be attached), pork, sausages, beans, and potatoes. Onions, garlic, thyme, parsley, rosemary, and oregano are all excellent complementary flavours.  Sage grows well, like most other herbs, in the warmer months here in South-Eastern Ontario. It prefers warm sun, but cannot withstand extreme heat. It’s not picky with soil type and is even happy growing in containers. When harvesting, be sure to harvest lightly through the first year in order to let the plant establish itself. Harvest leaves individually and either use fresh or store for use at a later date. You can find sage year-round at most grocery stores either dried or fresh, and often at farmers markets. I’ve attached my favourite way to use this herb at the end of this post…my very own cranberry and walnut sage stuffing.

Rosemarry in the UTSU Garden

Rosemarry in the UTSU Garden

Act three: rosemary. Rosemary is arguably one of my favourite seasonings. It occupied enough of my childhood to allow me to feel the comforts of home in its presence, no matter where in the world I find myself. The name rosemary comes from the Latin word rosmarinus, broken down this translates to ros “dew” and marinus “sea” or dew of the sea. It is thought to have originated from a wild, perennial shrub often found by the sea. I’ve always thought that rosemary looks a bit like a tiny pine-tree with its needle-like leaves, so its suiting that it is also known for its pine odor. It is a triple threat as it is not only a beautiful ornamental plant, but it is a culinary herb and a fragrance. Rosemary is high in anti-oxidants, it is rich in B-complex vitamins, and is an excellent source of iron and calcium. When growing rosemary, a gardener can find that it is a relatively low-maintenance plant that requires sun, good drainage, and good air circulation. A word of warning: it does not fare well in cold conditions, so I would recommend bringing it inside during the cooler months. To harvest, choose springs of rosemary that have a deep green color, free from yellow or dark spots. If you do not have the ability to grow and harvest it fresh, dried rosemary can serve as an excellent substitute. Be sure to check local farmers markets to get access to the freshest of this herb. Fresh rosemary should be stored in the fridge, either in its original packaging or wrapped in a damp paper towel, while dried should be kept in a tightly sealed container in a dark, dry place. Rosemary is best used for cooking poultry, lambs, stews, and soups. I’ve attached my favorite recipe for rosemary: my very own rosemary pasta sauce.

Thyme, also in the UTSU garden.

Thyme, also in the UTSU garden.

Last, but definitely not least is thyme. Good thing I could squeeze this one in, time really is on thyme’s side. Similar to rosemary, thyme has a very strong scent and flavor. It is a woody-stemmed herb with small leaves that is native to the Mediterranean; commonly seen in Italian and Provencal French cuisines. There are numerous varieties of thyme, but the two main ones (popular for cooking, at least) are common thyme and lemon thyme. Both have a mild flavor and are highly aromatic, but lemon thyme as the name suggests has a slight hint of citrus. Thyme leaves are curled and tiny, measuring less than an eighth of an inch. This small leave packs a big punch; it has many active characteristics that allow it to serve as a disease preventing herb, as well as an antiseptic (it contains the essential oil thymol, still used by pharmacists, especially in cough remedies). Historically, thyme has served as a chest and respiratory aide, notable for coughs, bronchitis, and chest congestion. It has also long been used for its other medicinal properties, the ancient Egyptians are said to use to aid in the embalming process of preserving deceased pharaohs. Thyme is native to Asia and southern Europe, but is now also cultivated in North America. It is popularly known as a main herb in the French herbs d’province. It is a great addition to stock, stews, and soup. In Ontario, thyme can be a quite fruitful perennial herb, as it is relatively drought resistant and requires very little to grow (sun and dry soil). When plants begin to flower, pick leaves and sprigs from the top of the plant. To dry the, let the leaves dry out on the stem and strip them from the stem. Store in a cool, dark place until you are ready to use. You can harvest from your plant through the summer, but slow down in the cooler months to keep your plant strong.  Thyme can be a great addition to pasta and pizza sauces, salad dressings, stews, stuffings, and especially great with poultry, fish, and eggs. Speaking of poultry, this is a deliciously refreshing recipe for roast chicken with lemon and thyme (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Roast-Chicken-with-Lemon-and-Thyme-102159). Another great way is in dessert; try out this Lemon Thyme Sherbet (http://homecooking.about.com/od/dessertrecipes/r/bldes25.htm).

Now that we’ve grown familiar with these four beautiful herbs, please spread your love equally and cook with all four of them!

Sage Stuffing with Cranberries and Walnuts

2 lbs bread (any kind, I use whole grain)
1/3 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup diced onion
3/4 cup diced celery
salt and pepper, to taste
3 tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
1 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup dried cranberries
2 2/3 – 3 cups chicken or veggie broth or stock

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch casserole dish/baking pan.
Cut the bread into rough 1-inch cubes and place in a large bowl.
In a large skillet, heat the butter. Cook butter over medium heat until it foams, then starts to brown and take on a rich, toasted smell (about 5 minutes). Pour into a small dish and set aside.
In the same skillet over medium heat, cook diced onions and celery until onions are tender, about 5-8 minutes.
Transfer onions and celery to a medium bowl. Add fresh sage. Add coarsely chopped walnuts and dried cranberries. Add browned butter and toss to coat.
Pour vegetable mixture over the bread cubes in the large bowl. Add chicken stock (I used 2 2/3 cups with bread, use slightly more if you prefer a wetter stuffing) and fold gently with a spatula until vegetables are evenly distributed and all bread cubes are moistened.
Pour into prepared pan and press into an even layer. Cover with a piece of aluminum foil.
Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, until top is golden brown.

Serves 10-12

Red Wine and Rosemary Marinara Sauce

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil1 cup chopped onion

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 (20 ounce) can plum tomatoes, juices included

1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste

¾ cup dry red wine

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons dried basil

1 teaspoon rosemary (fresh or dried)

½ teaspoon salt, preferably the coarse variety

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (I usually leave these out, but if you like them, please throw them in!)

Fresh ground pepper, to taste

In a large deep-sided nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, tomato paste, wine, sugar, basil, rosemary, salt, red pepper flakes (if you’re using them), and black better; bring to a brisk simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until reduced and thickened, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up the tomatoes with a large wooden spoon. You can now serve the sauce over spaghetti (it serves 5 to 6) or store and freeze the sauce for later use.

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