Herbs bring a special element to an ordinary dish

Herbs bring a special element to an ordinary dish By Gwen Schoen - gschoen at sacbee.com
Last Updated 5:42 am PDT Wednesday, May 7, 2008 Story appeared in TASTE section, Page F2
Fresh herbs can turn a weeknight supper into a masterpiece.
Here's proof: Make a paste of chives, fresh rosemary, garlic and olive oil, and rub it into a pork roast the night before you roast it. Or snip some fresh parsley to sprinkle over your pasta sauce. How about dicing fresh basil to sprinkle over heirloom tomatoes?
The cook's hand with herbs is the difference between cooking and creating. And when the herbs are snipped fresh from your own kitchen garden ... well, now we're talking masterpiece.
The difference between a spice and an herb
Herbs are usually the leafy, green portion of a plant. Spices come from the bark, buds, fruit, roots, seeds or resin of a plant. When an herb is allowed to bloom or develop seeds, the seeds and blooms are spices, but the leaves are herbs. A good example is coriander, which is related to the parsley family. Coriander seeds are a spice, but the leaves of the plant are the herb we know as cilantro.
Storing fresh herbs
After you buy or cut fresh herbs, if you plan to use them within a day, stand them in a vase of water just as you would cut flowers to keep them fresh.
If you need to keep herbs fresh longer than a day, place them in an open plastic bag with a damp towel and store them in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator.
Drying herb s
Most herbs can be dried for long storage. The easiest way to dry herbs is to tie a bunch together with a piece of string and hang them upside down in a dark, dry place until they are completely dry. Herbs can also be dried in a dehydrator or an oven on low heat, but most people have better success just allowing them to air dry.
Once the herbs are dry, remove the stems and crush the leaves. The best storage is a glass jar with a tight lid. Try to use dried herbs within a few months because once dried, they will lose their flavor quickly.
Freezing herbs
Tarragon and chives freeze well. Just rinse them off, dice them and toss them into a plastic storage bag before freezing.
Leafy herbs such as cilantro and parsley are better frozen in water so that they turn into little ice cubes. They will turn mushy and soft when thawed, but you can still use them to flavor liquids. Just pull the leaves from the stems. Dice the leaves and put them in ice cube trays. Add water and freeze them into cubes. Once they are solid, you can remove the cubes from the trays and put them into freezer bags.
Cooking with herbs
It's best to adjust seasonings at the end of a long cooking time to avoid overseasoning a dish. During cooking, liquids evaporate, which can cause the flavors of seasonings to intensify. Also, some herbs and spices turn bitter during long cooking, and others lose their flavor altogether. If you add them to your recipe toward the end of the cooking time, you avoid these problems.
When substituting dried herbs for fresh in a recipe, use about one- third as many as you would fresh. When herbs are dried, moisture is lost, which intensifies the flavors, so you would need less.
Preparing herbs for cooking
Wash fresh herbs by submerging them in a dish of cool water and gently bouncing them around so that soil, sand and bugs are removed. Shake off the excess water and gently pat them dry with a soft towel or allow them to drain in a colander.
For best flavor, crush or snip herbs just before adding them to your recipe. Dried herbs can be crushed between your fingers to release the flavors. The stems of fresh herbs are often bitter, so it's best to remove the stems by pulling the sprigs between your fingers or snipping leaves with herb snips or kitchen shears. Leaves of fresh herbs can be diced with a knife or cut with herb snips.
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I learned this recipe from my son's babysitter in Italy years ago:
Make slashes into a lamb roast and stuff with a paste of garlic, fresh rosemary and bacon. Roast overnight in a VERY slow oven. Comes out mouthwatering tender.
Persephone [...]
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