One of the simple pleasures of summer is the abundance of fresh herbs to add interest to your daily menus. Of course, many fresh herb varieties are readily available year round at any market, but the price tag tends to be hefty. Warm weather lets home gardeners — even those with a "black thumb" — plant and partake of their own harvest at a much lower cost.
For centuries, herbs have been prized for their medicinal properties, and indeed, many holistic health professionals still advocate their use. But culinary herbs are also a valuable commodity because they impart both sprightly color and flavor to so many dishes, including the selections offered below.
Note: If substituting dried herbs for fresh, always use one-third as much.
Also known as Chinese parsley, cilantro is the leaf of the coriander plant and is considered indispensable for preparing any salsa. This tomato-free version is ideal to serve with crusty French bread for dipping.
1 large bunch cilantro
2 scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons water
Several hours or the day before serving, remove the tough stems from cilantro. Rinse leaves and pat dry with paper towels. Place in the container of a food processor with the scallions, and pulse until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a small bowl, and stir in the remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight. Serve with bread slices for dipping. Makes about 2/3 cup.
POTATO SALAD WITH DILL
Few herbs offer an aroma as tantalizing as fresh dill, and it certainly can bring new life to everyday potato salad.
3 pounds new potatoes
½ cup homemade or bottled vinaigrette dressing
½ teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup minced scallions
½ cup mayonnaise
½ teaspoon dry mustard
¼ cup snipped fresh dill
A few hours before serving, scrub and quarter the potatoes, but do not peel them. Place in a large kettle with cold water to cover and bring to boiling. Simmer until barely tender — about 7 minutes. Drain well and place in a large bowl. Pour the dressing on top, and add the next 3 ingredients, tossing well. Let stand at room temperature until completely cooled. Add the mayonnaise and mustard, and mix again. Refrigerate until serving. Just before serving, sprinkle with dill and mix again. Serves 6 to 8.
Of all the uses for basil, pesto (Italian for "paste") is arguably the most popular because it has a complex flavor that partners perfectly with any cooked pasta. Pesto can also be spread on sliced and grilled French bread for a bruschetta-style appetizer.
2 pounds linguine
2 cups packed basil leaves
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 heaping teaspoons pine nuts (pignoli)
6 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of salt
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup whipped cream cheese
In a large (8-quart) kettle, prepare linguine according to package directions. Meanwhile, place the basil, 1/3 cup of oil, pine nuts, garlic and salt in the container of a food processor. Process until smooth and transfer to a 1-quart saucepan. Add the remaining olive oil, Parmesan and cream cheese. Gently heat, stirring until smooth. Drain the linguine, place in a large bowl, and toss with the pesto. Garnish with additional Parmesan if desired. Serves 6 to 8.
Tarragon is a slightly sweet herb that adds panache to chicken, fish and vegetable dishes. This entrée is well suited for entertaining, accompanied by steamed rice, a tossed salad, and your favorite white wine.
6 boneless chicken breast halves
Salt and pepper
½ cup flour
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
¼ cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon
1 cup chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream
Trim the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Dredge the pieces lightly in flour, reserving the remaining flour. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and cook the chicken breasts until golden-brown on both sides. Remove the breasts, and keep them warm. Add the shallots to the skillet and sauté until soft. Use the wine to deglaze the skillet, scraping up all the brown bits. Add the reserved flour, whisking until smooth. Stir in the tarragon and chicken broth. Return the chicken to the skillet, cover and cook over low heat until cooked through — about 15 minutes. If the sauce is getting too thick, add a little more chicken broth. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter, or place over a bed of cooked rice and keep warm. Add the cream to the sauce in the skillet, stirring constantly; do not let it boil. Pour the sauce over the chicken, and garnish with additional fresh tarragon if desired. Serves 4. FP
Ginnie Manuel is a Midlothian-based freelance writer and cookbook author.