The herb garden

1st June 2016 Blogs

As you know we are absolutely passionate about using the freshest ingredients in our menus and food doesn’t come any fresher or more delicious than produce that you have grown yourself. As keen gardeners ourselves, we work hard to use as much of our own home grown fruit, vegetables and herbs in our changing menus in the restaurant. In fact we love herbs so much you will even see them growing in our window boxes at Seasons!

There’s nothing quite like the taste of fresh herbs picked fresh from your own garden and they are so easy to grow whether in beds, containers or on windowsills. Many herbs can even be grown all year round – saving you money on expensive supermarket produce and packing in much more flavour too. Fresh herbs can totally transform a dish and lift it to another level, either to provide a fresh zing of flavour just before serving or a real depth of flavour during cooking.

Herbs can be categorised into two main types, either woody herbs such as rosemary and thyme or soft herbs like basil and parsley. Woody herbs are tougher and tend to be too strong to be eaten raw and are usually cooked alongside the ingredients that they are meant to flavour and enhance. Soft herbs aren’t as strong as woody ones and because of this they can usually be eaten raw in salads or stirred into cooked food just before serving for maximum flavour.

When creating a herb garden or choosing which herbs to grow in containers, it’s worth knowing whether your chosen herb is annual, biennial or perennial. Annual and biennial herbs such as basil, coriander, parsley, dill and chervil are fast growing and may need to be sown at intervals throughout spring and summer to ensure that you have a continuous fresh supply. Whereas perennial herbs such as oregano, mint, thyme, sage, rosemary and chives are slower growing and  require a more permanent home.

If you haven’t already done so we would strongly encourage you to choose a few of your favourites along with some lesser known varieties and start a little herb garden all of your own, chances are you probably have some herbs growing in your garden already. There are many wonderful herbs and countless ways to use them in food and drink, here are just some of our favourites with a few suggestions you could try – but remember the fun of cooking and eating is experimenting with different flavours and combinations. Enjoy!

Herbs that you know …………

Mint
An oldie but a goodie, mint is a fantastic herb to grow in a container (even in shady areas) and is really versatile to use in both food and drink. You can use it in everything from tea to mojitos, to mint and coriander chutney. If you feed it, this bushy plant will provide you with a constant supply of leaves from April to November, year after year and the most common varieties are peppermint and spearmint. Fresh mint goes really well with fresh fruit and you must try it in a gin and tonic. Mint is also delicious in salads and of course is the perfect partner with peas and new potatoes as well as providing a cooling yoghurt accompaniment to spicy curries.

Chives
Fabulous in salads, snipped up over soups and used as a garnish to many dishes. Chives is another herb which is very easy to grow, just make sure it doesn’t dry out, as chives like damp soil.

Parsley
Parsley is probably the ultimate garnish for rich dishes and provides the perfect finish to most recipes. Whether flat leaf or curly you can use it sprinkled over roasted lamb, beef stroganoff or fish. You can also use the stalks to flavour stocks. Why not use it as the base to make your own Chimichurri sauce – a wonderful accompaniment to steak which hails from Argentina.

Because parsley has so many uses, it’s a good idea to fill a whole window box with it.

Sage, Bay, Thyme and Rosemary
These really are the Fab Four, easy to grow and each having its own distinct flavour, these classic herbs are excellent for soups, stocks, meats, pastas and more. Remember they don’t like wet roots so try not to over water them.

Of course the aromatic leaf from the bay laurel tree, bay is an essential component of the classic bouquet garni and these bittersweet, spicy leaves impart flavour to a wide variety of dishes, making it a versatile store cupboard ingredient. It’s also one of the few herbs that doesn’t lose its flavour when dried. Rosemary is often used with roast meats, as well as roasted potatoes, on breads like focaccia, and in slow cooked stews and pies and is wonderful with gin!

Thyme is delicious when roasted with meat or vegetables like squash, leeks or carrots and is again a great addition to slow cooked stews. And sage is incredibly aromatic and goes beautifully with the deep flavours of sausages, onion and mature Cheddar cheese or pork chops.

Basil
There’s absolutely nothing fawlty about this wonderful herb!

Of course this soft herb, which is at the heart of Italian cooking, loves the warmth. It’s best grown in a warm, bright, sheltered spot (it thrives in green houses) and sown when the weather heats up in June.  With its sweet, slightly aniseed flavour, basil livens up pasta dishes and salads and forms the base of pesto. As well as being a famous partner of tomato, mozzarella and garlic – basil is superb with aubergines, artichokes, balsamic vinegar, seafood and is sensational with strawberries.

Oregano and Marjoram
Oregano is actually a soft herb that behaves like a hard one, with its strong flavour, oregano pairs beautifully with red meats and rich Italian dishes including classics like spaghetti and meatballs.

Marjoram is oregano’s smaller brother, its thinner and more delicate leaves are used in northern European cuisine with beetroot, carrots, pork and baked fish. Good in salads and particularly good with goat’s cheese.

Herbs you might not use so often …….

Sorrel
Not one you’ll easily find in the supermarket, this old British herb has a strong, sour flavour and a sharp lemony kick. It is a classic accompaniment to eggs, salmon and other fish as well as being good with goat’s cheese, or you can chop up a few fresh leaves and add to salads.

We love to forage for wood sorrel in the local woods.

Lovage  
We grow lovage at home and use it like parsley. Garden Lovage is one of the old English herbs that was formerly very generally cultivated, and is still occasionally cultivated as a sweet herb, and for the use in herbal medicine of its root, and to a less degree, the leaves and seeds.

Dill
Dill looks similar to fennel but has a slightly different flavour. It’s commonly used in Eastern Europe, from Scandinavia to Greece, and most famously in Gravadlax. This is a very fragrant herb which is delicious with fish, particularly smoked salmon, as well as in salads, potato, carrots and eggs.

Tarragon
Tarragon is a delicate plant and its long green leaves have an aniseed like flavour which goes really well with chicken, eggs, tomatoes and potatoes. Can also be used chopped into salads.

Chervil
Chervil is similar to tarragon but not quite as strong. It’s beautiful delicate leaves are good in salads and lightly flavoured creamy soups and chervil leaves are wonderful for garnishing food because they are so beautiful.