Rachel Bennett

Posts Tagged ‘herbs’

Baby Taste Buds

In Food on January 16, 2014 at 22:57


A few days ago I had the pleasure of cooking a meal for a beautiful brand new family. Josh and Rhonda welcomed their little boy into the world just before Christmas. Although Lucas quickly established himself as an easy-going baby, he has one small foible. He is fussy about onions and garlic. The moment his mamma partakes of any dish containing these aromatics, he becomes vociferous in his discontent.

I thought of this as I stirred pale slivers of leek into shimmering oil. How strange is is that a newborn baby can taste so much through his mother’s milk. What else could his new taste buds detect? First it must be that proverbial sweetness, warm and plump, coating the palate like crème brûlée. Then perhaps a flicker of bitterness from the hearty greens of mom’s dinner last night, a creamy soupçon of a morning avocado, and the umami-ripe depth of a lunchtime tomato soup.

Of course it was only his mama and papa who ate my risotto, but I like to think that little Lucas got a vicarious taste of smoked salmon laced with lemon and herbs. And just the faintest whisper of white vermouth.

Smoked salmon risotto with lemon and vermouth

Serves 4-6

Hot smoked salmon works beautifully in this risotto, rich and woodsy against bright lemon. White vermouth replaces the usual wine, suffusing a panoply of herbal flavors into the dish.

1 large leek, white and pale green part only
olive oil to coat pan
2.5 cups risotto rice
½ cup white vermouth
5 cups vegetable or fish stock
½ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 lemon, grated zest and some juice
8 oz hot smoked salmon, flaked
coarse salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan, shaved (optional)

Heat the stock in a saucepan and then keep warm over a low heat on a back burner. Wash and finely chop the leek. Heat a large skillet over a medium-low heat and coat with olive oil. Sweat the leek until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat with oil. Add the vermouth and stir until liquid is absorbed. Add half the parsley, and a little stock. Stir until liquid is almost absorbed. Stir in the lemon zest and a splash more stock. Continue stirring, adding liquid as it is absorbed, until rice is almost ready but still has a bite to it, about 12-15 minutes. Stir in the salmon and a squeeze of lemon juice. Continue gently stirring until rice is tender. Season to taste with more lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Garnish with remaining parsley and shaved parmesan if desired.


The Hesitant Gardener

In Food on June 6, 2012 at 15:49

I am a cook, not a gardener. I am a sucker for the relatively instant gratification of whipping up a souffle, tossing together a salad, or baking a pie. Even making a loaf of sourdough bread requires a mere 48 hours from wistful thought to butter-slathered slice. Gardening, on the other hand, is an endeavor for those of a patient disposition. It is one thing to hanker after a patch of peas, beans, and berries, but the fulfillment of this desire can take up to a year: you must prepare the ground, plant at the correct moment, and then wait months and hungry months for your harvest, which can in turn be summarily destroyed by pests, weather, or any other contrivance of a cranky mother nature.

That is not to suggest I am actively opposed to gardening; this would be impossible for anyone obsessed with food, cooking, and eating. After all, my apple pie is absolutely dependent on those who plant the seeds and tend the fruit. Indeed, I feel a searing pang of jealously on passing even the smallest kitchen garden or community pea-patch. The fundamental problem is that I have rarely stood still long enough to cultivate  anything more elaborate than a pot of geraniums. Once, a couple of years ago, I lived in a small studio apartment behind which there were tiny plots of earth available to tenants. Enthused by the thought of peas—tiny orbs bursting with sweetness—I bought seeds and started them on my windowsill. Within weeks green shoots appeared and I planted them in the carefully prepared earth. Then I waited and watered and waited some more. Much to my surprise the plants thrived and I anticipated the harvest, salivating over recipes for succulent salads and ethereal tarts. Then I graduated university and had to move house. I packed my belongings into the car and returned to my garden to say goodbye. The first few peas were just ripe so I picked a plump specimen and popped it into my mouth. It was better than I had imagined. Turning reluctantly away with a puny fistful of peas, I hopped in the car and left.

That tender harvest, minuscule though it may have been, gave me an enduring desire to garden again. The problem has been that, like many other twenty-somethings, my life has been nomadic, characterized by constant packing and unpacking. College, move, job, move, grad school, move. I walk by pea-patches and neighbors gardens and sigh; one day, one day I too will have a little garden of raised beds, fruit trees, and chickens in one corner….perhaps even a goat and some bees. Alas, that day has not come yet. And so I have contented myself with a distant appreciation of gardeners and their craft. Much like a gentleman farmer, I stroll about, admiring this labor from afar, my hands unsoiled.

Today, my life has become less nomadic and my hankering for a kitchen garden grows stronger daily. Alas, my boyfriend and I live in a small one bedroom apartment and it is not the ideal place for horticultural endeavors. About a week ago, however, I was sitting on the sofa, surveying our little home, and noticing what a large and sunny living room window we have. I sat up, of course! We may not room for poultry (to my disappointment they were not on the list of acceptable pets) or vegetables, but we have plenty of space for herbs. And since it costs upwards of $3 for each miniscule packet of these essential aromatics, we would be saving money too. The next evening I built a bench, one foot by ten feet, running the length of our window. Then I took a trip to the nursery, bought at large bag of potting soil and some seed packets. I chose sweet basil and Italian parsley, woodsy thyme, sharp chives, fragrant marjoram, and sultry cilantro. Digging through the recycling, I found a few egg cartons, planted my seeds, and set them proudly on the window bench.

And now there is nothing to do but wait, watch the sunshine pour through the glass, and dream of homemade fettuccine flecked with basil, of thyme-scented stews, and fragrant salsa verde. My garden bench is certainly no urban farm, but it’s a start. It is at least something to tend.

Sap and Herbs

In Food on March 12, 2011 at 14:51

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

– T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland.

Spring is elusive on this shrouded island. One moment she peeks from the earth in a scatter of golden daffodils, the next she withdraws to sulk behind a leaden, leaking sky. At this time of year, worn out by months of bolstering myself against a grey drizzle, I am particularly susceptible to this capricious climate: A sun break sends me into giddy abandon so that I throw on an optimistic tee-shirt and scamper outside, content and at ease with the world. But then the skies turn and the wind rips at my cheeks; mood darkening I succumb to a restless melancholy. In spring, flowers burst into bloom admonishing us to ‘be happy,’ yet meanwhile and unseen the tree sap is rising, fighting upwards against gravity—an exhausting journey towards the sun.

A few days ago I decided to make salsa verde. It is without a doubt the best cure for a case of this springtime, existential restlessness. Fling open the kitchen window and chop great handfuls of herbs, their fragrance like a deep aromatic affirmation of good things to come: Basil, soft and spicy; parsley, grassy and fresh; and mint, so bright it makes your body quiver. Together they mingle, pounded with pestle and mortar and seasoned with garlic, anchovies, and capers. The green plants merge into a heady spring tonic, a remedy against gravity and the cloying, insistent fertility of Spring. They rise, like sap to the sun.

Salsa Verde

Salsa verde makes a bright, refreshing complement to a variety of dishes. At this time of year, try serving it alongside a leg of Spring lamb.

2 bunches parsley
1 bunch basil
1 bunch mint
1 clove garlic
coarse sea salt
3-4 anchovy fillets
a dollop of Dijon mustard
red wine vinegar
olive oil
lemon juice

Finely chop the herbs and set aside. Using a mortar and pestle (or a food processor if you lack one of these wonderful medieval gadgets) combine the garlic, anchovies, a dash of salt, and a scattering of capers and mash into a smooth paste. Add the herbs, a dollop of Dijon mustard, and a generous portion of olive oil and whisk together well. Adjust the acid with vinegar and lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.