Saturday, June 12, 2010

peaches and herbs

"Any sort of salad mixed without some enticing herb flavours can be a comparatively dull thing."
 -Audrey Wynne Hatfield, Pleasures of Herbs

When I think about cooking with fresh herbs I put them into two categories: the tender herbs that I feel free to combine in any proportion and use interchangeably versus the hardy wood stemmed herbs that have more pronounced essential oils and a dominant flavor.
The tender herbs are ones I would put in a salad, a salsa or a pesto. The hardy herbs work great in a braise, on the grill, in a soup, a stew or a stuffing. To put the flavor of these hardy herbs in a salad consider infusing them in vinegar or olive oil to extract the flavor with out the chewy texture of the actual leaves.
These are not hardened rules, just a guideline for easy cooking. It is fun to experiment with combinations and I urge everyone to do so as the pleasures of herbs are infinite. Some of the hardy herbs when young can be used as tender herbs, for example there are some varieties of thyme that seem to retain their tender stem. Also not to be overlooked are the blossoms from herb plants. These delicate flowers make a picturesque addition to salads and vegetable dishes and are flavorful too.
Basil and mint are tender herbs from the same family. The tiny leaves of globe basil on the left can be tossed whole into salads.

Tender Herbs 
-use whole or chopped in any combination in salads
lemon balm
Oregano and thyme are herbs I use more sparingly in salads.

Hardy Herbs
-use sparingly in salads when leaves are young
The chive blossom is composed of a cluster of tiny flowers. I snip them apart with a scissor at the base of the stem and toss them over a salad. These pretty purple sage blossoms have a lovely, fragrant sage-y flavor.

Edible Flowers from Herbs
Rose petals are edible and beautiful.
Composed Salad of Mango, Peaches, Goat Cheese and Herbs
The fruit is dressed with mint, rose petals, globe basil and sage blossoms. Crumble some goat cheese on top (not pictured)  and then lightly drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and a splash of balsamic or sherry vinegar.

Deb does a great job of breaking down the herbs into two groups, and summing up in a concise way the best ways to utilize nature's flavor enhancers. Her "rules" make it very easy for novices like myself to allow our own "inner chefs" to confidently make our own, creative choices. That is what I love about her posts, and particularly this one.

As for wine, there are no steadfast rules to follow when it comes to herbs. There are so many different factors that come into play. I would, however, tend to pair reds with the heartier herbs like thyme, oregano, rosemary and marjoram. But still, there are other things to consider. You really have to consider the whole sauce, marinade or dressing. For example, you could have a light, herbal vinaigrette that would call for something lively, like Gruner Veltliner or Sauvignon Blanc perhaps. These wines typically have herbal characteristics themselves. But you could also have a creamy dressing or sauce which might be wonderful with a fuller bodied white like a Chardonnay. Always consider the texture and the acidity of the dressing or sauce.

Red wine often works better, in my opinion, with tomato-based sauces. So a typical spaghetti sauce with fresh herbs would work well with a Chianti, for example. And stews which utilize heartier herbs like thyme, marjoram, and rosemary will taste better paired with a similarly hearty red. It will also be important to consider the spices in a wine, and the heat they give off.

For Deb's salad in this recipe, as in our last post, I would once again choose a Moscato. Fruit salad just screams for this slightly sweet, frizzante dessert wine. (which also works beautifully as an aperitif).

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