GARDENING: The joy of herbs

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IT’S simple to buy those little glass jars full of dried herbs - but have you ever thought how much easier and cheaper it is to grow your own?

Most come from a Mediterranean environment, but these herbs appreciate a slightly richer lifestyle, and will tolerate some shade.

PARSLEY: Always go for the flat-leaf variety. It’s used copiously with garlic and lemon zest, and makes an aromatic gremolata (see panel).

It is a Tuscan staple in the flavour base, the odori (parsley, onion, carrot, celery and garlic, sauteed in extra-virgin olive oil), and tabbouleh, the Lebanese parsley salad.

MINT: Used widely in Greece to enhance stuffed vegetables and fresh dishes, and in Turkey and the Middle East with yogurt dishes. Never plant mint directly into a border, as it’s invasive. The apple and Moroccan varieties are particularly good.

DILL: Its feathery leaves have a mild aniseed taste, popular in Greece and Turkey. It is chopped into fish and chicken dishes, as well as stuffings and rice. Pickled gherkins and cucumbers are often flavoured with dill. This is one that does look great in a border.

BASIL: One of the herbs most crucial to Mediterranean cooking. The sweet tender leaves, have a great affinity with tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, courgettes and cheese. Always tear the leaves, don’t cut them, for maximum flavour.

LEMON BALM: The variegated variety is lovely in borders and imparts a lovely lemon tang to summer drinks. Easy to grow.

CHERVIL: This pretty-leafed herb is like mild parsley and needs to be used generously. Widely used in French cooking.

CHIVES: A grass-like herb which produces a beautiful purplish flower. Its flavour resembles mild onions. Use in salads and in omelettes or as an onion substitute. Look out for the stronger garlic or Chinese chives.

Recipe

Gremolata, the traditional accompaniment to Milanese Osso Bucco, is classically made from lemon zest, garlic, and parsley.

The flat-leaved parsley is the key here – you need lots of it and since we’re having a glut of it at the minute, it’s an ideal recipe as a condiment, side salad or even a light pasta sauce.

There are many variations – you can use the zest from other citrus fruits (lime, orange, grapefruit), change the parsley to coriander, mint, or sage or swap the garlic for fresh horseradish, or minced shallot. I added Parmesan and crushed anchovies - toasted pine nuts are another good option.

I served the anchovy version (it’s not fishy-tasting, just savoury) with home-made meatballs and a thick home-made tomato and basil paste. The two sauces contrast well.

Gremolata with anchovies

Large bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped

4 anchovies, crushed into a paste

Tablespoon lemon juice

Olive oil, to bind together

2 oz (or more if you like) Parmesan or other Italian hard cheese, grated

Just combine all the prepared ingredients and chill until needed.

Classic Gremolata

2 tbsp minced flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1 Tbsp freshly grated lemon zest

2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

Mix ingredients together in a small bowl with a fork and serve.

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