Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme…
Longing Search For Love
Simon and Garfunkel wrote a Canticle about herbs, not for cooking but to sing of a longing search for love. So sweet. And so apt, because while we think about herbs for the beautiful flavor they give, each has its symbolic story to tell. Once you know the stories, you’ll be even more inclined than ever to sprinkle them here, slice and fold them in there.
I’ve chosen a small selection of herbs to highlight, my top favorites. Of course I could include others, and I will in due time, but for now I want you to know about these. Think of it like this: if you were relegated to a desert island with room for just five herbs, which would you choose? (Paris is hardly a deserted island, but space IS limited!).
Witnesses to the Season
These are my picks, the “friends” I rely on to give verve to the dishes I make, security to my soul for I know if they are nearby, all is well. Thus, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, chives, parsley, basil…and chervil (and maybe a few more like lemon thyme) are included in my initial choice. They do so much more than give flavor and security, though, for they act as witnesses to the season, keeping me in touch with what’s going on “out there” on farms and in gardens.
From Oblivion to Courage
Aside from the comfort and flavor they give, there are the stories. Rosemary symbolizes love and remembrance. The Greeks imbued parsley with the emotion of oblivion, and the Jews link it with rebirth. Thyme symbolized courage to the Ancient Greeks, and style to the Medieval Europeans, whose seamstresses wove its likeness into cloth. As for chervil, which is related to carrots, its roots are popular in Germany, where it too symbolizes new life. And tarragon’s name comes from the French word for little dragon (esdragon = estragon), for its root system that winds and curls like a serpent. It is a protective and calming herb that numbs the tongue just slightly – perhaps a subtle form of protection? As for lemon thyme, it’s a botanists dream, taking two fabulous flavors and melding them in one plant.
Herbs and Love
I love Simon and Garfunkel’s Canticle, the haunting message it gives linking herbs with love. You’ll notice sage is in the song but not among my favorites. Oh, if I had space I’d plant hundreds of sage plants for their flowers, the honey their blossoms drip onto the leaves, the way they imbue everything with their pine-y, august flavor. But I can live without it all for now and besides, it would be unkind to confine it to a window box for it needs space to roam.
Here is How To Use Them
- Rosemary: place a bed of rosemary stalks in a roasting pan, set your roast (lamb, pork, beef) atop it and roast away. Remove the stalks and make a sauce with the juices. Or, mince rosemary, combine with butter, rub the mixture under the skin of chicken; use rosemary like a skewer for cherry tomatoes, shrimp on the grill, olives that you marinate in oil…
- Chervil: use it as a garnish with abandon; snip its leaves over steamed fish; fold it into steamed shellfish; whip it into fresh cream to spoon over green beans, asparagus, crushed potatoes.
- Tarragon: strew it around chicken that you’re planning to roast; snip it into cream and dress pasta; add leaves to your salad before tossing; use it in omelettes, add it to mayonnaise
- Lemon Thyme: add it to your chicken or fish stock; stir it into vegetable soup right before serving; add it to an omelette; layer it with vegetables in a gratin; line a steamer with it for steaming fish
- English thyme: add it to beef stews, chicken soups, all stocks; infuse it into warm honey; make tisanes (herb tea) with it; pluck its leaves and add the to pastry, or savory crackers.
- Parsley (flat leaf) – pluck off the leaves, add garlic and pine nuts and dress in vinaigrette for a great salad; add it to all stocks; strew it over artichokes before braising; add it to omelettes; use it half and half with basil for pesto.
- Basil: make pesto but use Brazil nuts instead of pine nuts, leave out the cheese and stir it into vegetable soup right before serving; roll out bread dough and layer it with pesto, roll it up, cut it and voila! Basil rolls; add the leaves to salad, wrap them around chunks of goat cheese and set on a tomato slice.
Essentials, You’ll See
So enjoy your herbs, plant them wherever you can, befriend them and they’ll become your essentials too!