cooking with mid winter herbs

A few notes and the recipes from my 2/10/09 presentation/demonstration, Spring Valley Garden Club

I demonstrated the preparation of some foods using herbs from my city herb garden for the February meeting of the Spring Valley Garden Club. The majority of my perennial herbs are packed in a small plot of soil in front of my row house in downtown Shaw. I decided what to make today based on my herbs and the vegetables that I was able to find at the Sunday Farmers Market.

Herbs available in my garden February 2009
Bay, sorrel, winter savory, salad burnet, parsley, Italian parsley, marjoram, sage and rosemary-

I bake with recipes and when preparing savoy food I just cook tasting things as I go along and not measuring ingredients. This time I measured ingredients, had someone jot down the measurements as I cooked so I could post the recipes here.

The lavender from my garden is available year round and I use it throughout the seasons for cooking and making flower arrangements. It makes a great tisane, flavoring for homemade ice cream and a little bit finely chopped is delicious on many fresh fruits. Today biscotti….These biscotti are rolled in sugar that I dyed with a little purple cabbage juice just for color. Plain sugar would work also.

Lavender Biscotti

Makes about 50 biscotti

1/2 cup tightly packed lavender leaves
1 1/3 cup organic, fair trade sugar
1 3/4 organic all purpose unbleached flour
1 cup organic whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 oz non hydrogenated vegetable oil stick, such as smart balance
1/2 cup pureed silken tofu
extra sugar for rolling

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2.In a food processor combine the lavender and sugar. Process until the sugar turns green and lavender is pureed, about 1 minute.

3.In a mixer combine sugar, flours, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and vegetable oil. Mix until thoroughly incorporated. Add tofu and mix until just thoroughly incorporated.

4.Divide dough into 4 pieces and roll each piece into a log with a 3/4 inch diameter. Roll each log in sugar until coated on all sides.

5.Bake the logs for about 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 225 degrees. Slice logs into cookies about 1/4 inch wide each.

6.Place cookies on a baking sheet and place in oven. Cook until biscotti are firm about 15 to 20 additional minutes, or longer if you want very crunchy biscotti.

While cookies baked we made a flatbread with rosemary. Rosemary is another herb that I have available in my garden throughout the year. I particularly appreciate it in the cold months because it pairs so well with fall and winter foods. This year I have been enjoying roasting it with root vegetables, as a flavoring for variety of beans and with apples and pears prepared many different ways.

Rosemary, Walnut, Spelt Flatbread

Makes about 2 sheet pan sized flatbreads

3 cups water
2 tablespoons fresh compressed yeast
2 tablespoons organic fair trade sugar
2 tablespoons finely ground sea salt
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
4 cups spelt flour
4 1/2 cups organic all purpose unbleached flour (exact amount determined when making)
1 cup toasted pieces, walnuts
Olive oil for pan
Approximately 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt for top

1.Preheat oven to 425. In a large bowl combine water, yeast, sugar, salt and rosemary. Mix until somewhat smooth. Gradually add flour, about 2 cups at a time, switching back and forth between the spelt and the all purpose unbleached. Knead in flour after each addition.

2.When the dough can stick together as a ball take the dough out of the bowl and place on a clean surface. Knead the dough adding more flower until it stops sticking to your hands. Knead dough vigorously for about 2 minutes.

3.Split the dough in half. Coat a sheet tray with olive oil. Place one piece of the bread on the sheet tray and pat out with palms and fingertips until the bread is about 1/4 inch thick. Sprinkle the top of the bread with a coarse salt.

4.Bake the bread until it is a deep golden brown, about 20 minutes.

While the bread was baking we made a squash puree with sage and winter sage. Both of these herbs can be harvested throughout the year. I have my winter savory planted near my thyme and summer savory. In the summer the thyme and summer savory take over and the savory dies back and vice a versa in the winter. Sage sometimes does not look its most beautiful in the winter but it still tastes fantastic. It is another one of those herbs that compliments fall and winter produce. Try using it with roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes, with braised fennel or mashed celery root.

Winter Squash Spread

2 cups roasted winter squash puree (we used the varieties amber cup and kabocha)
1 onion chopped
1 tablespoon sage
1 tablespoon winter savory
2 teaspoons walnut oil
salt and pepper to taste (I used a French sea salt for this dish)
grapeseed oil approximately 2 teaspoons

1.Preheat oven to 375. Cut squash in half and remove seeds. Lightly coat squash with grapeseed oil and place on sheet pan cut side down. Coat onion with oil as well and place on sheet tray beside the squash.

2.Cook until the squash is tender and the onions are golden brown.

3.When the squash is cool enough to touch remove the meat and discard the skin.

4.Place all ingredients in the food processor and processor until smooth, about one minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Before preparing the next dish we removed the biscotti from the oven, sliced them and returned them to the lower temperature oven. The salad we prepared had parsley and Italian parsley as well as sorrel and salad burnet. For a long time I stopped using traditional parsley I am not sure why but now I am really enjoying it in vegetable salads, bean salads, pureed as a sauce or dressing….Sorrel has always been a favorite herb of mine. The fresh lemony flavor is great with anything that would taste good with a touch of citrus, many things! I have found that it is sometimes difficult to start a sorrel plant either from seed or seedling but once established it will thrive. I cannot cut sorrel all winter from my garden but anytime there are a few nice days in a row I am happily able to gather several leaves. Salad burnet is rarely available unless you grow it. The good news is it is easy to grow and versatile in use. The light cucumbery taste is a good addition to a wide variety of foods. Try individual leaves in salads or pureed with a little olive oil salt and pepper as a sauce.

Winter Vegetable Salad
2 cups total chopped herbs including- parsley, Italian parsley, salad burnet and sorrel
1 fennel bulb
2 radishes
1 large or two medium Jerusalem artichokes
1 kohlrabi, peeled
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste (I used a block of Himalayan salt with a hand grater)

1.Using a mandoline, food processor or a knife thinly slice the vegetables.

2.Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix. Season with salt and pepper.

Bread came out of oven and everything was ready to sample. I was very appreciative for the many questions that came up while cooking and eating about- salt, growing herbs, finding ingredients, feeding kids, cooking with little time…..they will all inform my future talks, writing and daily practice!