Fragrant, fresh and full of flavour
Get your green fingers to work by planting your own collection of Italian herbs – then use your homegrown basil, sage, rosemary, thyme and oregano for your bella cucina!
The world of fresh Italian herbs is open to all. No one needs a garden or even a balcony to grow these handy and mostly hardy plants – pots on a window sill and simple maintenance will suffice for them to thrive. Rub leaves or sprigs between your thumb and forefinger to experience the wonderful, uplifting fragrances of the herb world and enhance your cooking by infusing dishes with harmonious flavours to please every buona forchetta. Let’s look at five Italian herbs you can grow and cook with in your home cucina.
Richer tastes with rosemary
This plant can grow to a wide-spreading bush over a metre high in warm conditions and given enough space but can flourish in pots of modest dimensions – place seeds or cuttings in well-drained soil.
As a tough, woody herb, rosemary cannot be eaten raw! Place a few sprigs of rosemary in your casserole dish for a slow-cooking stew on the stove or an oven-roasted meal and be rewarded with its rich flavour and irresistible aroma. Remove before serving but chop a few more raw sprigs as an attractive garnish. Rosemary’s intense flavour works well with root vegetables like potatoes and parsnips.
Make time for thyme
Thyme thrives in well-drained soil with balanced acidity. It loves full sunlight, so be sure to position the plant at the brightest spot in your home.
Like rosemary, thyme’s flexible twigs are woody – great for standing the heat while cooking but not pleasant to chew on! Place in a stock pot with vegetables like leeks, carrots or squash to add wholesome, earthy flavour. Complement home-made Mediterranean sauces containing aubergines or bell peppers with a few pieces and remove before serving.
Home comforts with basil
Don’t overdo maintenance of your basil plants! Gentle sunlight and light watering in well-drained soil are enough to keep these lovely soft leaves a vibrant green. The scent of basil on your kitchen window sill is uplifting and comforting.
This delicate herb with a slightly peppery flavour can stimulate your taste buds to enjoy even basic dishes. Basil mixed with rocket makes a yummy pesto for a super-green boost to pasta. Make a vegan tricolore with sliced vegan mozzarella, tomatoes and fresh basil leaves or create a beautiful contrast in colours and flavours by garnishing risottos, salads or even a bowl of strawberries with your basil harvest.
Wise to add sage
A soothing, yet fresh scent emanates from these cool green leaves with a slightly rough texture.
The intense, savoury flavour of sage is delicious just with butter in gnocchi – or try this simple pasta sauce: Fry sliced garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, cubed vegan feta cheese and a few sage leaves in organic olive oil with a slight hint of chilli. Serve with penne or fusilli, adding a little of the salted pasta water to the sauce for added moisture. It’s tasty, nutritious and entirely vegan!
As a side dish, mix breadcrumbs, finely chopped onions, vegan margarine and chopped sage. Bake in an oven dish for 20 minutes on a high heat.
Trim your oregano plant regularly to keep it at around 6 cm, give it some UV rays and offer a little water every few days, and you’ll have a versatile kitchen herb at hand for months.
Also known as wild marjoram, oregano aids our digestion – perfect for blending into vegan meals containing heavy pulses, beans, cabbages and sprouts. Its savoury but subtle flavour make it handy for sprinkling on salads or pizzas to add a few vitamins, even when dried. For a quick snack, place large tomato slices on bread, drizzle over olive oil and sprinkle on oregano.
TIP: Marinate rosemary, basil and oregano in olive oil to make a scrumptious dip for fluffy Italian bread.