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It's thyme for herb season: Recipes with parsley, sage and rosemary to start summer

On this late June day, my garden is flooded with magic afternoon light. My huge bundle of sage plants is crowned with purple flowers. I rub my hands through the herb as I pass by, and its earthy, pungent scent floats up. The mint has run amok, spreading down the stone stairs that lead to the basement. I walk nearby and its bright summery smells rise to greet me. The basil leaves are also starting to look promising and the thyme, which pours itself over a large stone, is spread with tiny purple flowers. The rosemary bush, with its green feathery spindly leaves, is looking healthier than ever.

It’s peak herb season — my very favorite time of year. My cooking feels so inspired when I know I can just pinch some thyme leaves out the kitchen door, or snip some sweet lemon verbena leaves and steep them in some iced tea. Or pull those feathery green rosemary leaves and season a roast chicken. The possibility of adding fresh, herbal flavor brings out the best in my summer cooking. Everything seems to taste so much fuller, larger, and better when fresh herbs are abundant. Whether you grow your own in a large garden or in small pots on your windowsill or buy them at a farmers market or a grocery store, make sure to use the freshest herbs you can find.

Here are three new recipes that are all herb-forward (“herbaceous” as chefs might say) as well as a guide to some of my favorite herbs.

Tomato, mozzarella and herb salad

A classic Caprese salad includes the ripest tomatoes, moist Buffalo mozzarella cheese and fresh basil leaves. (The salad also happens to mimic the colors of the Italian flag.) In my take on a Caprese salad, herbs are used in three different ways. First, cherry tomatoes are roasted with olive oil and basil until they soften and are almost bursting.

When they cool, they are placed on top of a bed of basil pesto, thin slices of mozzarella, and topped with a combination of fresh herbs. You can use any variety of herbs from your garden or farmer’s market; the more herbs you use the more interesting the textures and flavors of the salad. Try not to assemble the salad more than an hour ahead of time for the best texture. Warm crusty bread to soak up all the olive oil and tomato juices is a good idea.

Serves 4.

Ingredients

The cherry tomatoes:

  • 2 large basil leaves, torn into small pieces
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, preferably on the vine, red and yellow, or all red
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


The mozzarella, pesto and herbs

  • ½ cup pesto, store bought or see recipe below
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into thin slices
  • ½ cup fresh herbs, coarsely chopped or torn, like basil, thyme, opal basil, chives, sage, rosemary, dill, etc.


Instructions

  1. Roast the tomatoes: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the basil in the bottom of a medium gratin dish or shallow casserole or skillet and cover with the tomatoes, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast on the middle shelf for 45 minutes, or until the tomatoes are softened and nearly bursting. Remove and cool.
  2. Using the back of a spoon or soft spatula, smear the pesto on the bottom of a medium to large serving plate. Place the cooled roasted tomatoes on top and surround with the mozzarella slices. Spoon the juices from the bottom of the roasting pan on top, and then scatter with the combination of fresh herbs.

Basil pesto

This summer sauce is ideal for the roasted cherry tomato and herb salad. It’s also a classic on pasta, or can be brushed on grilled seafood or meats. Pesto can be a dip or spread on crusty bread.

Classic pesto is made with green basil, pine nuts, grated Parmesan cheese and olive oil, pounded into a paste using a mortar and pestle. You can also prepare it in a food processor for a finer, more blended texture.

Ingredients

  • 2 packed cups fresh basil
  • 1 large or 2 small cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios or your favorite nut*
  • 1/2 cup good quality olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


*If you want a nuttier flavor, toast the nuts in a dry skillet for four minutes.

Instructions

  1. Pulse the basil leaves in a food processor a few times to chop. Add the garlic and pulse another 10 times.
  2. Add the pine nuts and, with the motor running slowly, add the ½ cup olive oil through the opening in the top of the processor and blend until smooth. Remove and stir in the cheese; season with salt and pepper.
  3. Pesto should be stored in a glass jar (plastic isn’t the best) and should be covered with a very thin layer, about 1 tablespoon, of oil on top. Keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. It will also keep frozen for several months.

Green herb sauce with marinated grilled skirt steak

This green herb sauce is my take on a classic chimichurri sauce. This one has garlic, parsley, cilantro, olive oil, crushed red pepper and lemon. It can also be served with grilled shrimp or fish, chicken, or as a dip for crackers and vegetables. Skirt steak, flat iron or flank steak is the ideal cut here; the meat is marinated and then grilled over a hot fire. It’s thinly sliced and topped with the pungent green herb sauce.

Serves 4

Ingredients

The steak and marinade

  • 2 pound skirt, flat iron, or flank steak
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • Salt and pepper


The green herb sauce

  • 1 scallion, white and green sections, ends trimmed, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup parsley with stems
  • ½ cup cilantro with stems
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper, depending on how spicy you like it
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Instructions

  1. Marinate the steak: Place the meat in a large, non-reactive bowl. Add the wine, olive oil, vinegar, rosemary, thyme and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Marinate for at least an hour or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. If refrigerated, bring to room temperature before grilling.
  2. Make the green herb sauce: Place the scallion and garlic in the bowl of a food processor or blender and chop by pulsing several times. Add the parsley and cilantro and pulse some more. Add the oil, vinegar, crushed red pepper, lemon, and salt and pepper to taste, and pulse until you have a thick sauce. The sauce can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days. It can also be frozen for 2 months, but freezing will affect the texture.
  3. Grill the steak: Preheat the grill (charcoal or gas) until hot, about 400 degrees. Remove the meat from the marinade and place directly on the hot grill. Grill for 5 minutes, baste with some of the marinade and gently flip the meat over. Grill another 5 to 7 minutes, baste again and, depending on the cut and the thickness, cook until the meat registers around 125 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the heat and place a few spoonfuls of the green herb sauce on top. Let it sit for 5 minutes and then thinly slice the meat against the grain. Serve with the remaining green sauce on the side.

Herbed farro salad with roasted carrots and leeks

Farros is an ancient whole grain that is prized for its nutty flavor and chewy al dente texture. It pairs well with so many vegetables and herbs. I boil it until almost tender (you want it to still have a “bite”) and then toss it with chopped fresh dill, parsley, mint, and chives and stir with lemon juice and olive oil. Carrots are thinly sliced on the diagonal and roasted with thinly sliced leeks and tossed into the salad. The whole dish can be made hours ahead of time and served as a main course, or side dish. You can also get creative with this salad and add cubes of creamy feta cheese, toasted nuts, raisins, cherry tomatoes and other vegetables.

Serves 2 to 3 as main course and 4 to 6 as side dish.

Ingredients

The roasted carrots and leeks:

  • 1 ½ tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, ends trimmed, peeled and cut into thin slices on the diagonal
  • 1 large leek, white and green sections only, cut lengthwise into thin pieces
  • 1 ½ tablespoon lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


The farro and herbs:

  • 1 ½ cups farro
  • 2 ½ tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
  • ½ cup parsley, chopped
  • 2 ½ tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced chives
  • 1 scallion, finely chopped, white and green sections
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Fresh mint leaves or dill sprigs as garnish


Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Gently toss the carrots, leeks, oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small roasting pan or oven-proof skillet in one layer and roast on the middle shelf for 20 minutes. The carrots should be just tender and the leek will turn golden brown. Remove from the oven.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a medium-sized pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add the farro and cook, stirring, for about 18 minutes. Skim off any foam that forms at the top. The farro is done when it is just soft, but still feels chewy, but is not undercooked. You don’t want it to be fully tender. Drain and place on a serving plate or bowl.
  3. Immediately, while still hot, toss the farro with the herbs, scallions, oil, lemon juice and add salt and pepper to taste. Add the roasted carrots and leeks and any oil or juices from the bottom of the pan and gently toss. Garnish with mint leaves and or dill sprigs. Serve at room temperature. (The dish can be covered and refrigerated overnight. You may need to give it a gentle toss and add a touch more oil and lemon juice before serving.)


More favorite herb recipes:

  • Click here for recipes to make a herb frittata; herb, radish and fennel salad; herb vinaigrette.
  • Click here for recipes to make herb-infused roasted beets with herb butter, stir fried cilantro and basil turkey wraps in lettuce leaves, mint and herb syrups.
  • Click here for recipes to make green sauce, garlic scape and pistachio pesto, peanut butter sesame sauce with cilantro, cold sesame noodles, maple and chile bbq sauce, summer salsa and cucumber-yogurt sauce.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Fresh herbs. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)
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Fresh herbs. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)