I know of nothing that will improve the taste of your cooking as much as using fresh herbs.* I always keep some handy. Fresh herbs, a little garlic, a little lemon, a little salt - you can season everything from rotisserie chicken to grilled vegetables, from beef stews to carrot salads. If you have good basic ingredients, adding some fresh herbs will make them shine. But there is one fresh herb that I keep coming back to, time and time again.
*The next big step after that? Making your own stock. But that's a much bigger time commitment, and a rant for another day.
Years ago I decided to grow a herb garden. I bought pots from the local garden store, some potting soil, and a variety of herbs. And, optimistically, a jalapeno pepper plant. I put them on my deck and watered them every day...for the first week. Then I neglected them. Diane would keep reminding me: "You need to water your plants!" I would agree, and then promptly forget about them. I guess I'm not really that into gardening, just the results.
*What's the opposite of a green thumb? Whatever it is, that's what I have.
And those results were dismal. The basil produced a few lonely leaves; cilantro turned brown and dried up. The parsley never really took off. Oregano was overrun with weeds. (Weeds! In a potted plant!). The rosemary grew OK, enough for a sprig every couple of weeks without completely cutting down the plant. The jalapeno plant gave me one tiny, and very lonely, pepper. In the end, in spite of all this disaster, this herb garden was one of my best cooking experiments.
Why? Because of the thyme. The wonderful, thriving thyme made up for all the failures. It didn't care that I neglected it, that it only got water when it rained. I ignored it, except when I came out with the scissors, looking for fresh herbs to add to dinner. What did the thyme do? It just kept growing and growing. Thanks to that thyme, I have been hooked on having a herb garden ever since.
*One herb makes a herb garden, right? Right.
**Diane, who always did the flower gardening around our house, took over the herbs when she started her vegetable garden. Thanks to her efforts, the other herbs aren't neglected any more, and I get basil, parsley, oregano, and chives to go with my thyme.
That thyme bush has moved to the front of my house, between the sidewalk and the driveway, and it is still going strong. It's not supposed to be an annual plant here in Ohio...but it comes back every year. It lasts to the first frost and beyond - I cut my last Thyme sprigs for Christmas dinner last year. It laughs at my neglect and just keeps on keeping on.
Thyme is one of the backbone flavors in my cooking, thanks to the reliability of that bush. It matches with just about everything, from my dry brines, to my pan sauces, to making the herb brushes for my butter baste. I use it as the base of my fresh herbs, in combination with any other herbs I have. Thyme is my stand-in for any fresh herb I don't have on hand. When the bag of parsley in the refrigerator has gone bad, when the rosemary plant has one wimpy stalk that I don't dare cut, when a recipe calls for mint and I forgot to pick some up, thyme does the job. My cooking gets a hit of fresh, green herbs, and nobody really notices that it isn't the "right" one.
Once the bush shuts down for the winter, I'll pick up a pack of "poultry mix" fresh herbs from the grocery store. I'll cringe at the $2 price tag for the small bunch of herbs. The little plastic pack will have a bunch of different herbs in it, but the main one? My old friend, thyme.
What do you think? What's your favorite fresh herb? Anything that does particularly well in your windowsill herb garden? Other uses for my favorite shrub? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
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