Italian Herb Garden – Growing Herbs for Delicious Cooking

Linguine, pesto, lasagna – your mouth is watering, right?  Italian food is one of the favorite cuisines.  From the humble pizza to Tuscan feasts, Italian food is the perfect choice for any meal or occasion.  To make the best Italian food, you need the best Italian ingredients which means durum wheat pasta, gnocchi, fresh tomatoes, a variety of hard and soft cheeses, and aromatic Italian herbs.  While the other ingredients are the base, it is the right blend of Italian herbs that makes your meal memorable, but these herbs can be expensive and hard to find fresh in the winter months.  So how about growing your own Italian herb garden to get fresh herbs?

In order to grow your Italian herb garden you first need to know what herbs and spices are quintessential for Italian cooking.  Favored ingredients vary from region to region, but this list is a good place from which to start: thyme, garlic, basil, parsley, rosemary, sage, oregano, chives, and fennel.  All of these herbs are considered to be hearty and they also grow well all year round in pots.  They all can be grown outdoors in the summer, but they should be moved indoors during the winter months unless your climate is as mild as that of southern Italy.

One of the most convenient places to establish your Italian herb garden is in your kitchen.  This keeps all your plants close at hand for plucking the bit you need for each evening meal and harvesting your herbs could not be easier – simply take a pair of kitchen scissors and snip off the parts that you want to use.  The leaves of most herbs can be plucked fully off, whereas shoots can be cut back about 4 to 6 inches at a time.  Harvesting also promotes new growth and keeps your Italian herb garden looking abundant and healthy.  As you snip off most herbs, they release a pungent scent that will fill your kitchen with the smells of delicious Italian cooking.  Chives are especially fragrant immediately after harvesting, as are garlic and basil.  In fact, the smell of garlic and basil not only tickles your taste buds, but it also has the added bonus of repelling flies and other kitchen pests.

Another great thing about growing an Italian herb garden is that you can use your herbs both for cooking and for decoration.  If you grow your herbs outdoors, you will need to harvest and dry them for use in the winter.  Frankly, some recipes work better with dried herbs.  When this is the case, you can gather large bunches of herbs and hang them upside down from your ceiling, walls, or doorways.  Add some flare to the kitchen by tying up the bundles from your Italian herb garden with a strip of red and white checked cloth, just like what you would find on the table at an Italian restaurant.  If your ceiling is not conducive to hanging herbs, a great idea for decorating with drying herbs is to mount an old rake to your kitchen wall and hang the herbs off the tines.  Done right, you can transform your kitchen into a little piece of rural Italy.  It might even make your food taste better!

When you begin to use Italian herbs in your cooking, you can either go by the amounts recommended in the recipe book or you can let your nose be your guide.  There are a few simple guidelines for consistently finding the best combination of Italian herbs.

Garlic should always be used.  “It is not Italian without garlic”.  Sage is a very strong herb and can overpower other flavors.  Use sage early in the cooking process to mellow its taste. Basil and rosemary have lighter, crisper flavors.  Basil is also the key ingredient in good ‘pesto genovese’.  Parsley and fennel can be used as an after dinner digestive aid.  Fennel should also be liberally sprinkled throughout Italian sausages.

As you begin growing an Italian herb garden you will find your favorite flavor combination for each dish, but rest assured they will all be delicious!