Friday, 22 February 2008

Herbs and other neat plants

The last days in February are approaching fast. Summer is nearly done. First of March is the first day of autumn here. Early this morning the sky was invisible, a gauzy veil hiding the blue, waiting to announce the day. The cicadas, assembling their instruments for their cadenza.

My herb garden needs urgent attention. I have let it go over summer. To much rain this year for my herbs. I had also an invasion of grasshoppers and they just loved my Basil. I couldn't get it to grow. No Basil no Pesto! Sage has collapsed, it is anyway not a good plant for summer. I had an armful of parsley to dry. I have to make new cuttings of my Summer Savory it is on its last legs and I don't want to loose it, as it is quite hard to find a new plant. Only my Oregano plant has thrived it's just like it had taken all it's strength from the others. I can't use a "tonne" of Oregano laves! I look forward to autumn and winter to see my herb garden thrive again.

I have just come in from my work in the herb garden. It is not yet 9am it is already hot. The sun burns. I had a cool shower, my glasses keep steaming up. The day will be hot, the forecast is 32C. The sky is now a light blue, silky. Despite the heat the sky has already a tiny hint of autumn. It looks softer more delicate.

I have changed my clothes and Peter asks:" are you going somewhere?" No, I don't want to look like something the cat has dragged in. I never manage to look graceful while gardening. This work leaves me looking hot and dishevelled. I would love to have in one hand a G&T and in the other a small trowel and tell my husband where to dig.....utopia!

Daylili, Hemerocallis, the flowers are edible. The Chinese call it gum-jum, golden needles. I have dried a couple of petals for my herb salt. The daylili is not classified as a herb. It belongs to the family Hemerocallidacea. It is not a true Lilli. They are very easy to grow and to look after.The individual flowers last only one day, hence the name. The display of flowers is great and quite a long time.

A variety of herbs.

This pretty plaque was a birthday present.

The ornamental flowers of Garlic chive.

Mexican Tarragon, Tagetes Lucida. Has a strong Anise taste. I use it instead of French Tarragon. It grows well and is also a very pretty plant to have in a mixed border. Flowers and leaves are used in cooking. I use it also in bouquet garni.

French Lavender is the kind that does best in my garden, freely producing its flowers. English Lavender has always die back and is not as vigorous. It has produced a copious amount of dark purple flowers. I prefer the soft lavender colour. Allard's Lavender grows to a big healthy bush but is very reluctant to produce its flowers. When they are produced, they are worth waiting for because they look so elegant on long stems, dark purple.

Asian Peppermint growing here together with Ginger and a Laelia Orchid. I use this peppermint in Salads like cucumber or coleslaw. I use it also to make a refreshing peppermint tea.

Ginger for cooking. Here it grows together with Sage.

This Oregano has grown and still grows into a big bush. I have cut it back a few times because it was leaning over other herbs hogging all the space. It flowers continuously. With bees and other nectar seeking insects in great demand.

Billy is usually not far from where I am.

Elina was grown from a cutting gleaned from my daughter's garden. This rose keeps happily company with the herbs.

Oregano, here it is already cut back again.

Thyme is a herb I use a lot in my cooking. I don't dry it, I use it always fresh, when it is in flower I use those too.

"Farm" a painting done by Peter.

Honeysuckle perfuming the herb garden.

Herb salt produced from my herbs. I use a Vacola dryer. I dry the herbs under 50 C. this way they stay nice and green. The salt smells wonderful. It takes about 1 day and 1 night to dry.
Some herbs can take more or less time. I generally use a lot of Celery leaves, Parsley, Summer Savory, Tarragon and what ever other herbs are around at the time. I have dried Calendula flowers, Borage leaves and flowers. I blend the dried herbs in my food processor and mix it with sea salt. I use this herb salt for salad dressings, soup stock and for just about anything in cooking where appropriate.

Pots of herb salt are always appreciated as small presis.

Recipe for potato gnocchi with sage and burnt butter

200 g plain flour

500 g waxy potatoes peeled

175 g unsalted butter

salt and pepper

1 good hand full sage leaves

extra virgin olive oil

freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Tip the flour on your work surface. Steam the potatoes until cooked through. While hot, pass the potatoes through a food mill or a potato ricer so it falls evenly over the flour. Add some salt.

Melt 50g of the butter and drizzle it over the potatoes. Using a pastry scraper work the flour and potatoes together until you have a firm dough. Knead the dough gently for 5-6 minutes, the timing is very important. Divide the dough into quarters and roll each piece to make a long thin sausage about one cm in diameter. Cut each sausage into 2.5cm length. Put a buttered serving dish into an oven set at about 130 C. Fill a large pan with water for poaching the gnocchi. Add some salt to the water. When the water is boiling slip in all the gnocchi if the pan is big enough to take them all in a single layer. Otherwise poach them in sections like I do. Reduce the heat so the water isn't to turbulent. Allow the gnocchi to cook for 1 minute after they have risen to the surface. Skim them out and put them into the prepared , warm serving dish and season.

Cook the sage leaves in the remaining butter (I use in all only about 130g instead of 175 g of butter, I think it is enough) and a dash of olive oil over a medium heat until the butter is nut brown and the sage crispy. Pour the butter and sage over the gnocchi and serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

The recipe suggests this quantity serves 8. I am not sure about that. With us it serves 4. We must be greedy guts when it comes to potato gnocchi.

I always use this recipe, the gnocchi are light as feathers and truly italiano. Buono appetito.

This recipe is from a beautiful cookbook I use all the time. Stephanie Alexander and Maggie Beer's TUSCAN COOKBOOK .

To me the meanest flower that blows can give thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) Ode: Imitations of Immortality.

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