Food

Cooking with Summer Herbs

OPB | July 24, 2012 1:47 a.m. | Updated: July 31, 2012 7:05 a.m.

Contributed By:

Laura Theodore

Related Content:

Basil, Sage and Parsley "Bouquet"

Basil, Sage and Parsley "Bouquet"

Andy Ebberbach

Cooking with fresh summer herbs adds flavor to your recipes, while often adding desirable health properties. All summer long, I incorporate fresh herbs into my daily recipes. I sometimes even use fresh herbs when cooking breakfast!

Incorporating fresh herbs into your recipes enables you to create delicious meals without adding extra salt, sugar or fat. Dried herbs are great, but for incomparable flavor nothing beats fresh herbs, which add real pizzazz to salads, pastas, sandwiches, beverages and soups. In most recipes you can substitute chopped, fresh herbs for dried. Because dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh herbs, increase the amount of fresh herbs; in general, use three times as much as the amount of dried herbs called for.

I particularly love cooking with fresh basil. It adds zing to so many summertime recipes. Use it instead of lettuce in sandwiches and wraps. Add it to pasta sauces, savory baked goods, chilled soups and seasonal salads. You can make a great quick summer salad by simply cutting cherry or grape tomatoes in half, adding fresh chopped basil, fresh chopped garlic, a bit of sea salt and pepper. Toss well and serve!

The best way to chop large-leaved fresh herbs (such as basil or sage) is to stack up 6 to 10 leaves on your cutting board and then roll them up tightly like a cigar. Then you can easily cut across the leaves, making beautiful little chiffonade-style strips that you can add to recipes in a jiffy.

Laura Theodore planting herbs

Laura Theodore planting herbs

Andy Ebberbach

Although basil, parsley, cilantro and mint are typically available at markets in larger quantities, finding other herbs in good condition and at a reasonable price can be hit-or-miss. Fortunately, many herbs are hardy and easy to grow in the warmer months, and I heartily recommend you give it a try. During the summer months, think about growing your own fresh herbs and spices in your yard, in containers on your deck or even in window boxes. I grow herbs in containers placed in a sunny spot on my back deck all summer long.

It’s best to use fresh herbs shortly after you harvest or purchase them. If you won’t be using them right away, wrap them loosely in a paper towel and store them in a spacious container or plastic bag in the vegetable compartment of your refrigerator. Don’t chop them until you’re ready to use them.

If you purchase a large bunch of herbs that still has the roots attached, you can store it in water just like fresh flowers. First rinse the roots briefly and give them a fresh cut. Then place the herbs in a vase or glass of water and keep them on your kitchen counter — that way you can easily grab a few leaves as you cook.

Laura’s Top Ten Favorite Summer Herbs

  • Basil (all varieties including Genovese, Lemon, Thai, Cinnamon and Purple, to name a few)
  • Chives
  • Cilantro
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Spearmint
  • Thyme

You can try creating your own signature flavoring by combining summer herbs that you prefer. It’s the easiest way to jazz up your warm weather recipes, resulting in delicious, personalized creations that you, your friends and your family will savor. Give it a try and you’ll be glad you did.

Happy herb cooking!

- Tomato-Basil Pinwheel
- Arugula, Artichoke and Tomato Pasta
- Quinoa Tabbouleh
- Arugula-and-Walnut Pesto Pasta
- Savory Herb Mini-Biscuits 


Andy Ebberbach

Tomato-Basil Pinwheel

This salad, which features ripe, peak-of-season tomatoes, was inspired by a trip to my local farmers market. Slices of succulent tomatoes are arranged on a large platter with bright green basil leaves tucked between them. Because the dish can be prepared well in advance and the presentation is so festive, it’s perfect for summer parties.

MAKES 4 TO 6 SERVINGS

Ingredients

- 2 to 3 large ripe tomatoes, sliced
- 20 to 30 fresh basil leaves
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
- 5 or 6 short basil sprigs, for garnish

Place a slice of tomato near the edge of a 10- to 12-inch plate or serving platter. Arrange alternating tomato slices and basil leaves around the perimeter of the platter, overlapping them slightly and spiraling inward to form a pinwheel pattern. Sprinkle with the salt. Drizzle the oil evenly over the top. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 2 hours, until serving time.

Garnish with the basil sprigs if desired. Serve immediately.

TOMATO, BASIL AND TOFU PINWHEEL: For a vegan take on a classic caprese salad, add baked tofu. Cut 8 ounces of store-bought baked tofu into thin slices. Proceed with the recipe as directed, placing the tofu between the tomato slices and basil leaves.


Andy Ebberbach

Arugula, Artichoke and Tomato Pasta

This supremely fresh-tasting pasta is perfect summer fare. The steaming hot pasta cooks the tomatoes just enough to ensure that they’re bursting with flavor. I love to make this for company because most of the prep can be done beforehand and the colorful combination of veggies makes for an attractive presentation.

MAKES 4 to 6 SERVINGS

Ingredients

- 1 pound whole-grain penne, rotini or other pasta
- 2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 10 to 15 leaves fresh basil, very thinly sliced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon fines herbs or other herb blend
- 1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
- Several grinds freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 bunch arugula (about 4 ounces), cleaned and stemmed
- 1 jar (6 ounces) marinated artichoke hearts, drained

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in the pasta. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but firm.

Meanwhile, put the tomatoes, basil, garlic, fine herbs, salt and pepper in a bowl large enough to also accommodate the cooked pasta. Stir gently until well combined. Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of the oil and stir gently until the tomatoes are evenly coated. Coarsely chop the arugula and put it on top of the tomato mixture. Chop the artichoke hearts and put them in a small bowl.

Drain the pasta well and, while it is still piping hot, pour it over the tomato mixture. Drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of oil and toss gently until thoroughly combined. Gently stir in the artichoke hearts. Serve immediately.

NOTE: The tomato mixture and artichokes may be prepared up to 4 hours in advance. Just store them separately in covered bowls in the refrigerator.


Andy Ebberbach

Quinoa Tabbouleh

Using quinoa instead of couscous in this tasty tabbouleh adds great nutrition, appetizing texture and a delicious flavor. This is one of my favorite summer go-to salads!

MAKES 3 TO 4 SERVINGS

Ingredients

- 1/2 cup cooked quinoa, rinsed thoroughly
- 1 cup vegetable broth or water
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
- 1 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped chives or scallions
- ½ cup kalamata olives, chopped
- 3 medium tomatoes, chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Put the quinoa and broth (or water) into a small saucepan. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cook for 15 to 17 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Let cool to room temperature. (Quinoa may be made the day before and stored overnight in the refrigerator.)

Put the quinoa, mint, parsley, scallions, olives and tomatoes into a large bowl. Toss lightly to combine.

To make the dressing, put the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and cayenne into a small bowl. Whisk together.

Pour the dressing over the quinoa mixture and stir to coat. The salad may be served room temperature or cold, in which case cover and chill for up to 24 hours.


Andy Ebberbach

Arugula-and-Walnut Pesto Pasta

Arugula adds a peppery bite to this pesto without overwhelming the flavors of the other ingredients, and the wheat germ adds extra nutrition and a subtle crunch. This recipe is among my top warm-weather go-to dishes because it is special enough to serve to guests yet is also quick to prepare and doesn’t heat up the kitchen. Serve it with crusty whole-grain bread and a simple romaine salad for a satisfying meal.

MAKES 4 TO 6 SERVINGS

Ingredients

- 1 pound whole-grain pasta
- 2 1⁄4 ounces (3 cups, lightly packed) baby arugula
- 1 cup fresh basil, lightly packed
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 2⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (see note)
- 1⁄4 cup toasted wheat germ
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1⁄4 teaspoon sea salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 3 small tomatoes, cut into wedges

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in the pasta. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but firm.

Meanwhile put the arugula, basil, walnuts, oil, wheat germ, water, garlic and salt in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the blender jar or work bowl as needed. (Depending on the size of your blender or food processor, you may need to process the mixture in batches.) Season with pepper to taste.

Drain the pasta well and transfer to a large bowl. While it is still piping hot, add the arugula mixture and toss gently until thoroughly combined. Transfer to a large, shallow serving bowl and arrange the tomato wedges around the edge. Serve immediately.

NOTE: For a lower calorie pesto, you may reduce the olive oil to ¼ cup and add a ½ cup of spring or filtered water, plus more as needed, until the desired consistency is reached.


Andy Ebberbach

Savory Herb Mini-Biscuits

A friend once told me that I should sell these biscuits so everyone could have a chance to taste them. Better yet, I’m providing the recipe so you can make them at home. They’re easy to put together, even if you’ve never made biscuits before. Crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside, they have a delicate flavor that makes a pleasing addition to a festive lunch or an elegant evening meal.

MAKES 24 MINI-BISCUITS

Ingredients

- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons toasted wheat germ
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 6 leaves fresh sage, minced
- 8 leaves fresh basil, minced
- 1 1⁄4 cups unsweetened nondairy milk
- 1⁄3 cup vegan mayonnaise

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Oil two 12-cup mini-muffin tins.

Put the flours, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and stir with a dry whisk to combine. Add the wheat germ and brown sugar and stir with the whisk to combine.

Put the nondairy milk and vegan mayonnaise in a small bowl and whisk briskly until smooth and well combined. Pour into the flour mixture and stir just until incorporated and lump-free. The mixture will be quite thick. Gently fold in the chopped herbs.

Divide the mixture evenly among the prepared muffin cups. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, until the tops are slightly golden.

Put the pan on a wire rack and loosen the sides of each biscuit with a knife. Let cool for about 15 minutes. Carefully remove the biscuits. Serve warm or at room temperature.

PLAIN MINI-BISCUITS: Omit the herbs and proceed as directed.

BLUEBERRY MINI-BISCUITS: Omit the herbs and add 1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1 1⁄2 cups fresh blueberries. Proceed as directed.


RECIPES: The Companion Cookbook: Jazzy Vegetarian, Lively Vegan Cuisine That’s Easy and Delicious © LAURA THEODORE 2011


Laura Theodore is the host of Jazzy Vegetarian, which airs Tuesdays at 12:30 pm on OPB TV.

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