Plant an herb garden for your Italian cooking
Tips for planting a garden of Italian herbsHerbs are as essential to an Italian kitchen as tomatoes, pasta, and olive oil. They enhance flavor, provide your body with potent antioxidants and add color and fragrance to every dish. If you love to cook Italian food, planting an Italian herb garden will take your passion for to the next level.
The first step to planting an Italian herb garden is to choose the best location. You can grow herbs indoors as well, but note that youíll need a window with lots of sun and should pay special attention to drainage. Traditionally, herb gardens are planted within close proximity to the kitchen to give cooks convenient access to fresh ingredients.
Herbs for Italian Cooking
You donít have to be an expert gardener to produce an herb garden. Growing the herbs from plants and seeds that make Italian food so enjoyable will expand your enthusiasm for the cuisine and may even entice you to expand your repertoire. Some of the most common herbs used in Italian cooking are: basil, oregano, marjoram, parsley, and rosemary.
A member of the mint family, basil grows well in warm temperatures and is noted for repelling mosquitoes. The plant requires little water and full sun. There are twelve different types of basil used in cooking, but sweet basil is most often used in Italian food. Known by its potent leaves, basil is also thought to improve the flavor of pepper and tomato plants nearby. Itís a low-growing herb that works in pots or in the ground. Wait until the branches are a few inches high if you plan to transfer them.
Basil loses its flavors as it flowers. For cooking, the best time to clip the leaves is mid morning once the leaves are dried of morning dew. Basil is a key ingredient for pesto sauce, Italian soups, Margherita pizza, and bruschetta.
Parsley is one of the harder Italian herb plants to grow due to its long germination time. Itís difficult to transfer, but seeds can be grown in pots or planted in the ground in a spot with full sun or partial shade. Once parsley sprouts, itís easy to maintain with low watering and light weeding. Lady bugs help fight nematodes, parsleyís pest.
You can clip parsley once the leaves begin to curl. Curly parsley is often used as a garnish for pastas and salads, while flat-leaf parsley is a flavorful addition to soup stocks and marinades for meat.
Oregano is an adaptable herb that germinates in about a week. You can start the seeds in a pot, laid on top of rich soil and misted with water. Plant in full sun and water only during dry periods. When choosing its location, keep in mind that oregano can spread far if not trimmed frequently. For a bushier plant pinch of the flowers as they bud or let the purple flowers add a splash of color to your garden - though flavors are strongest before flowering.
Oreganoís strong flavor works well with garlic, basil and lemon juice, and is often added to tomato based sauces, salads, soups or dished with beans or eggplant.
Marjoram is a tender herb in the mint family often used in place of oregano. Plant it indoors about 6 weeks prior to breaking ground in you outdoor garden. Marjoram needs full sun and moist soil and produces a sweet, minty flavor and fragrance.
Marjoram is best appreciated in dishes with other robust ingredients such as pates, stuffing, sausages and meat sauces.
Itís easier to grow rosemary from 2-inch cuttings than seeds because rosemary develops slowly. Plant the cuttings in a pot and mist the soil daily. The cuttings should root in about 2-3 weeks, which you can verify with a gentle tug. You can transfer rosemary into the ground or continue to grow it in a container in indirect sunlight. As one of the sturdier herbs, rosemary survives in warm and cool weather, but is vulnerable to frost. Pinch the tops to encourage the plants to grow into the hedges that bees love.
Fresh rosemary is strong and easy to overdo when cooking. The blue flowers are edible and the small stems are frequently added to focaccia, and roasted potatoes, meats, and vegetables.
Italian food is famous for its intensely rich flavors created from simple, quality ingredients. Growing your own Italian herbs is a natural step in growing your skills and knowledge of this rich cuisine.