A Bundle of Herbs is a Lovely Thing

Tie up a mixture of herbs from your garden and throw them in something that you’re cooking. Call it a bouquet garni and you not only have a delicious, aromatic dish, but a classic one too.

 

bouquet garni 1

The wonderful thing about a bouquet garni is that you can make the most of the herbs you’re using, including the woody, flavourful goodness from the stalks. So you end up with a depth of herby flavour, not just the top ‘notes’ from the leaves.

There are 2 main ways of making your herb bundle:
1. Gather a mix of herbs and tie them securely with some natural string. Add them to your dish then remove the bundle before eating

bouquet garni wilmslowOr 2. Roughly bend or cut your herb mixture and place in a little muslin bag. Tie up and then add to your dish as it cooks. Again, remove before eating. This method is particularly good if you want to add otheringredients such as juniper berries, star anise or cloves, which can’t be just tied with other herbs.

And there are 2 main ways of using your herb bundle:

If your bundle contains mostly woody herbs with hardy stems and leaves (such as rosemary, sage and thyme), then add at the beginning of cooking to allow all the flavours to develop.
If your bundle contains delicate, thin stemmed herbs (such as coriander, basil and dill), add towards the end of cooking, as the flavours can be lost if you add the herbs too early.

Experiment with different combinations of herbs (and spices), to complement your dish – I’ve put together some combinations that work particularly well – see below – but this is of course by no means definitive!

These make small bouquets – just double up on the quantities if you’re making a bigger dish or want a bolder flavour.

For Beef: 1 bay leaf, 3 sprigs parsley, 2 sprigs thyme, 1 sprig hyssop

For Pork: 1 sprig sage, 2 sprigs parsley, 1 bay leaf, 2 sprigs thyme

For Lamb: 1 sprig rosemary, 2 sprigs oregano, 1 bay leaf, 1 sprig thyme

For Chicken or Turkey: 3 sprigs parsley, 1 bay leaf, 1 sprig tarragon, 1 sprig oregano

For Game: 1 sprig parsley, 4 juniper berries, 1 sprig thyme, 1 bay leaf

For Fish: 2 sprigs parsley, 2 sprigs dill / fennel, 1 sprig lemon balm, 2 stalks chives

For Vegetables: 2 sprigs oregano, 1 sprig thyme, 2 sprigs parsley, 1 sprig sage

For Fruit: 2 sprigs sweet cicely, 1 sprig mint, 1 sprig lemon balm

As a guideline, robust herbs like rosemary, sage and hyssop are great with strong meats like beef, lamb, game and pork.

oreganofennel

Delicate dishes benefit from fragrant and subtle herbs like dill, citrusy lemon balm and delicate onion-flavoured chives.

If you’re cooking vegetables such as peppers, aubergine, tomato and courgettes, then make a bouquet garni of Mediterranean herbs like oregano, basil, thyme and rosemary for a delicious Southern European flavour.

And please let me know if you have any favourite combinations to try…

Borage – a forgotten gem

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“The sprigs of borage in wine are of known virtue to revive the hypochondriac and cheer the hard student”     John Evelyn, Acetaria

Borage had its fans as long ago as Evelyn writing in 1699.

This herb is a bit out of fashion now – you can’t buy a bag of borage – but you can easily grow it and its well worth it. Borage has a very high nutrition content and you can eat both the leaves and flowers.

The young leaves have the freshness of cucumber and the larger leaves can be cooked like spinach. The leaves are hairy, but this slight prickliness is very superficial and dissolves completely in cooking.

The flowers make pretty ice cubes – just place washed borage flowers into an ice cube tray and top up with water. Borage flowers are also perfect to give a bit of glamour and cucumber flavour to your salad.

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In Italy, borage leaves are used to make Borage Pansotti, a delicious, traditional, triangular ravioli filled with borage and ricotta.

Here’s the recipe for the version I made – serve tossed in some lemon butter with a sprinkling of parmesan and a seasonal salad. Mine were more filling than pasta, but tasted wonderful nevertheless!

 

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To make about 25 ravioli

For the pasta:

110g plain flour

42g wheat or spelt flour

1/2 tsp olive oil

50ml cold water

Mix all the ingredients together then knead for at least 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and stretchy. Cover in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for an hour.

For the filling:

275g borage leaves

125g ricotta cheese

1/2 clove chopped garlic

1 beaten egg

pinch nutmeg

pinch salt

pinch pepper

25g finely grated parmesan cheese

 

Whilst the dough is resting, make the filling.

Blanch the washed borage leaves in boiling, salted water for about 3 minutes.

Rinse under cold water, then squeeze out as much moisture as possible – the easiest way is to wrap the cooked, cooled borage in a clean tea towel and squeeze.

Chop the borage very finely in a processer.

Add all the other ingredients, mix well.

Roll out the rested dough very thinly and cut into 2inch squares.

Place a tablespoon of the borage filling in the middle of each square, then fold and seal well.

Cook in boiling, salted water for about 3-5 minutes, until the ravioli float to the top of the pan.

Toss in butter and a tablespoon of lemon juice, or serve with a tomato sauce for a heartier supper.

borage pasta 2