Eli Jameson says its time to freshen up
One of my greater failings in life is my utter inability to deal with the world of plants. A green thumb I have not. Even the most supposedly indestructible houseplants get a severe case of depression and commit arboreal suicide as soon as they find themselves in my care. The happy-looking ficus that was living in the back yard of our house when we moved in two months ago now looks about as lush as Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. And speaking of Christmas trees, last year we set up an artificial number in the lounge and it started shedding its plastic leaves as soon as it realised it was notionally in my care. The floor had more little needles scattered around it than the footpath outside the “safe” in-jecting room in Sydney’s Kings Cross.
No wonder the Green Party held a week’s worth of demonstrations outside my house when they found out I’d requested brochures on a Tasmanian holiday. They figured I’d take one step off the plane and all the old-growth forests on the Apple Isle would decide to finally give up their respective ghosts.
Which is why I cannot have something I have always wanted, both for reasons aesthetic (read: reasons of ego – “why, yes, I do grow these myself”) and financial: a proper herb garden. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve bought basil planters by the pallet-load, visions of pe-sto-filled summers dancing in my head. Two days after installation the leaves wind up with-ered and charred by the sun, even if they were placed in the shade. Instead, I have to go to the markets and buy my herbs, which is tedious, inconvenient and expensive. How my local supermarche can get away with charging $2 for an anemic bundle of parsley is beyond me; the margins on such a product have more in-built fat than Dom Deluise. Either that, or the parsley farmer lost a lawsuit and needs the extra money because his wages are being garnished. (Ba-da-BOOM!)
Hopefully you do not have this problem. But either way, fresh herbs are as indispensable to good cooking as proper sea salt (always Maldon, and no, they don’t pay me a cent to say that, though yes, I’d be happy to take any spare inventory care of this magazine’s Sydney bureau) and extra virgin olive oil. All those jars of dried herbs that everyone keeps in the back of their kitchen cupboards are, for the most part, the enemy of taste. Although recipes typically tell readers to use less dried herbs than fresh because the power is supposedly concentrated, it is not long before, once unsealed, they quickly become deadly stale and add about as much oomph to a dish as a scant teaspoon of sawdust. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule: I find dried tarragon doesn’t hang around my house long enough to go off, and somehow retains more of its integrity than other herbs in the jar. And it means one can always knock up a bearnaise sauce on short notice, an event that happens with heart-stopping regularity around the Jameson chateau.
If you can possibly manage it, grow your own herbs to avoid the extortionate prices charged by the grocer. A handful of chopped basil (or something else if you like) makes something even as simple as a warmed-up bowl of tinned tomato soup into something else entirely, especially if you finish it with a drizzle of cream. And especially if you have the time and patience to do it in a mortar and pestle rather than in a blender or food processor a fresh, home-made pesto – basil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt – can’t be beat.
Rosemary is not only delicious, but it functions as God’s own skewer come barbeque time (get those silly little bamboo skewers outta here); stripped of most of their leaves the branches can be threaded through meat or fish and will impart their own flavour as they cook.
Dill adds a summery zest to fresh mayonaisses, especially when served alongside a nice piece of cold poached salmon and is great in potato and tuna salads. Thyme along with rosemary is tremendous on lamb, and recalls the flavour of great lamb dishes served around the Mediterranean where the creatures feed on the stuff in the wild, the taste being thusly imparted to their meat. And don’t overlook some of the other herbs on offer – chervil and marjoram for example – which are both underrated in my book.
Even if for reasons of space or, in my case, bad ju-ju, you can’t grow herbs it’s worth hav-ing a few at all times handy in the fridge from the market. Keep them wrapped in moist pa-per towel to keep them fresh for longer.
RECIPE: Herb-y Open Omelet
1 vine-ripened tomato
50-100g good goat’s cheese
good handful of basil, or whatever other herbs you desire
salt, pepper, and a knob of butter
First, chiffonade your herbs – that means roll them up real tight and slice thinly – and mix with the goat’s cheese. Set aside. Chop tomato into a medium dice, and set aside. And in a small bowl, whisk together the eggs with a bit of salt, pepper and about a tablespoon of water.
Heat a medium non-stick saute pan over medium-high heat and add a knob of butter. When the butter is melted and has stopped sizzling add the tomato and cook down for a moment. Add the eggs and swirl around the pan, making sure the tomato is reasonably evenly distributed. As the eggs begin to set drop marble-sized balls of the goat’s cheese and herb mixture around the pan, and finish under a pre-heated grill to melt the cheese down a bit and finish the dish.
Carefully slide out onto the centre of a warmed plate.
Since this is more a morning dish, I’d recommend nothing stronger than a bright moscato in the glass.