Having just read an article by Michael Littlewood in todays Ecologist I was initially inclined to disagree with his viewpoint that most cookery books offer little in the way of information on how to use herbs and include only the common varieties in their recipes. I went to check on my book shelves and, sure enough, there is plenty of information about a large variety of herbs and how to use them in cooking. However I had instinctively gone to my gardening book shelf and reached for Queen of herbs Jekka McVickar’s complete herb book. This book is full of the less well known herbs with information on how to grow them and recipes that include them. On the front cover Jamie Oliver states ‘Jekka’s is a must have book for everyone who loves gardening and cooking. I’m her biggest fan’.
Jamie Oliver is a chef who is passionate about using herbs in cooking and I have several of his recipe books. Having flicked through them I am now in agreement with Michael Littlewood. Most cookery books do not include a good variety of herbs or how to use them but several gardening books do.
I love the Jamie Oliver’s Jool’s favourite Saturday afternoon pasta . It incorporates home made tomato sauce flavoured with cinnamon (powder) and fresh basil. Basil is a tender herb that thrives in a sunny position. In summer it can be grown outdoors in a pot in gritty soil. One thing basil will not tolerate is standing in wet feet so water sparingly in the morning.
When I first made Jool’s pasta it was spring and too cold for basil to germinate. What I did have was another herb called basil mint. This is a perennial plant from the mint family that is tough as old boots and springs into growth early in the year. The leaves are tinged purple and have an overwhelming fragrance of basil. I added a couple of leaves to the tomato sauce and the flavour was outstanding, basil with a hint of mint.
This is an easy to grow herb as are so many others that could be included in cookery books. It would appear that gardeners and grow your own enthusiasts are perhaps privy to cookery secrets that the less green fingered foodies have yet to discover.