Alex Eats: Herbs

alex guarnaschelli

Every week, Alex Guarnaschelli, host of Alex's Day Off , shares with readers what she's eating -- whether it's from the farmers' market or fresh off the boat, she'll have you craving everything from comfort food to seasonal produce.

“Never put parsley on green beans,” one of my mentors whispered ominously to me one night in his kitchen. A young cook at the time, I dutifully heeded his advice. Years later, I was absent-mindedly sprinkling chopped chives on some green beans when I realized it was actually chopped parsley. A chill crept up my spine. Parsley with green beans. Help! I looked around to see if anyone was watching. The coast was clear. I tasted it. Delicious. It occurred to me I had never even asked why parsley and green beans don’t make a good match. The truth is, whatever you like is all that matters.

Here are some of my suggestions:

Sage: I made a bowl of homemade potato chips and tossed some sage leaves into the oil with the potatoes. I fished them out of the oil once they turned dark green and crispy -- however, getting one leaf every few chips is a great combo. Try tossing some leaves in with cooking liquids from a roasted leg of lamb and baste the meat. I also love sage with eggs; bake some eggs in the oven with grated cheese and a few chopped sage leaves. Just remember, a little goes a long way, and avoid the stems because they are tough and have a flavor like cough syrup.

Dill: This herb is very underrated. I love it in small quantities, especially paired with a few basil leaves -- on a sandwich, a seafood salad, you name it. I also love to throw a few sprigs into any soup. Unlike other herbs that I only cook for short periods of time (if at all), I let dill cook for at least an hour to mellow it.

Tarragon: I use the stems and leaves. Tarragon illuminates naturally sweet ingredients, so I take a pair of scissors and snip the leaves over fresh, sliced tomatoes. It’s also great stirred into mayonnaise for potato salad. The stems? I love to cook them with any kind of mushrooms. White button mushrooms cooked with a splash of that leftover white wine in the door of your fridge infused with tarragon is intoxicating. It is also a great herb to pair with fruit. Among many choices, poached peaches, sliced nectarines and grapefruit sections are some of my favorite pairings with a few sprigs of tarragon.

Basil: Such a classic herb with universal appeal, delicious on anything from pizza to strawberries. I have been making pesto by blending the leaves with some olive oil, salt, a tiny pinch of sugar and garlic. And what about those stems? I finely chop them and toss them into the pesto for texture and added sweetness. Delicious. The biggest pitfall with basil? It’s gritty. Make sure you wash basil thoroughly just before using. Don’t wash or chop basil in advance because it turns brown quickly.

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