Herbs Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, along with all their savory kin, add delicate flavor to any dish.

August 19, 1998|By Carol J.G. Ward | Carol J.G. Ward,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Anyone who grows herbs probably has gone out to his or her garden or patio container every once in a while just to pinch a leaf and breathe in the scent. Running your fingers over pine-like rosemary, sturdy gray-green sage or bright big-leafed basil releases rich aromas that conjure up images of savory roasted chicken, Thanksgiving dressing or pesto-coated angel-hair pasta.

A garden isn't required to enjoy herbs, since fresh herbs are readily available in markets these days. But store-bought herbs aren't cheap, so you'll want to make good use of them and preserve them as long as possible. Even if you grow your own, you'd like to get maximum return from your efforts.

"One of the main things to remember with fresh herbs is how to handle them," said Betty Fox Boone, owner of Boone-Fox Herb Farm.

A growing plant has a longer life span and offers the convenience of gathering just enough for a recipe, but snipped fresh herbs will keep for several days in a breathable plastic bag in the refrigerator. Or the stems can be placed in a glass of water and kept at room temperature.

Some herbs stand up to cooking or drying better than others. For example, parsley and chives break down easily when heated, so it's best to sprinkle them on top of cooked dishes or hTC stir them in just before serving, she said.

Because their delicate flavors are easily dissipated by heat, it's best to add fresh herbs near the end of cooking. If you add fresh herbs at the start, add more at the end to get the fresh flavor.

On the other hand, dried herbs should be added toward the beginning of cooking to release their flavor.

Dried herbs are not necessarily inferior to fresh herbs and at times might be the only alternative.

"Herbs are like fruits and vegetables; there's a season for them," Boone said. Basil, oregano, thyme and rosemary thrive in summer's heat, but dill and arugula prefer cooler weather.

Keep in mind that when seasoning with dried herbs, use about half as much as you would with fresh.

Although many people enjoy the flavor that herbs add to foods, they worry about making the right combinations. Cooks should just relax, Boone said. The best pairings are those that suit your tastes.

"If you look at some of the herb charts, you'll see that there's a lot of overlap between which herbs go with which foods," she said.

By smelling and sampling herbs before using them, cooks will become familiar with them and will be better able to match their flavors with foods.

If you're just beginning to experiment with herbs, tread lightly, Boone suggests. If every dish at a meal is seasoned with herbs, you might have overload. Start with a small amount; you can always add more, she said.

Try these suggestions for flavoring with herbs:

* Snip chives and fresh dill or parsley onto fish, baked potatoes or new potatoes.

* Snip chives and tarragon into eggs for scrambling.

* Sprinkle tarragon or rosemary, with or without garlic, over chicken.

* Press sage leaves or rosemary onto pork chops on the grill.

* Snip fresh dill or mint over thinly sliced cucumbers; add balsamic vinegar.

* Some herbs combine well. Fresh parsley and chives are good partners, as are rosemary and garlic and basil and oregano.

* When grilling, tie sprigs of fresh herbs together and use as a brush to baste the food with marinade or olive oil. Herbs also can be tossed onto the coals to season the smoke.

Pub Date: 8/19/98

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