Monday, May 14, 2012

hot ashes for trees? hot air for a cool breeze?

First off, this is not on the list of things I planned to write about for the next entry. Not even close. But today has been the absolute, utter day from hell where tech issues are concerned, and considering it's not my computer anyway, now I'm nervous and jumpy. So you get some culinary history.

We're going to be discussing Herbes de Provence, sometimes called Provençal herbs. First off, while many people consider this herb blend to be on the rarefied side, that's not how it started out. This is explained by the name. These aren't meant to be upper-crust, supercilious herbs, who are never seen on food that's served on "common" tables. Oh, no--part of what makes Herbes de Provence so special is that this was a down-home blend, a peasant addition. All the herbs found in traditional recipes for this mix grow in the hills of southern France in the summer, when it's traditionally gathered and sun-dried.

The beauty of this is, if you have respect for herbs and aging, this blend works just spiffy as a dried mix, and frankly, I think that's how most of us understand it anyway.

Now, there's a lot that goes into this mix, but it's also variable, which means every cook can put their own spin on what they use. And that's fine--this is an evolving blend. Find something you like? Fine, use it. Build on the basics. Make it your own. And I guarantee, you'll be happy with the results.

I'm going to go into recipes later on, but for right now, this is all you need to know on the list of ingredients:
  • bay leaf (whole or crumbled, but whole is generally better)
  • thyme (any variety, lemon thyme is fun)
  • fennel
  • rosemary
  • chervil
  • oregano
  • summer savory (what Penzey's offers is likely winter savory, but it'll do in a pinch; see the note after the recipes)
  • tarragon
  • mint
  • marjoram
  • orange zest is sometimes included (making your own is easier, or go to Penzey's again)
  • lavender is sometimes included (though it was more added as visitors to southern France brought their own ideas of what constitutes the "perfect blend"; also, while Penzey's carries it, it's not cheap. You can probably find better deals on your own)
Part of the fun of Herbes de Provence is that it's pretty much good in a lot of different ways. Mix it with olive oil and brush it over chicken, fish, roasts, or vegetables to enhance the flavors. Or add it to a pizza or a pasta sauce to enrich the end product. Sprinkle it over cooking eggs, roasts, whole chickens or turkeys, or lamb kebabs. Mix it with melted butter and brush it over the inside of turkeys, chickens or game fowl. You can rub the herb mix dry over meats before roasting; you can even toss a couple pinches into the coals just before grilling meat or vegetables.

For fun with searing: rub your meat of choice (most recommendations go for beef, lamb, or veal, but really, anything will do--if you want to get really creative, you can try it with tofu, tempeh or seitan) with olive oil, season well with ground salt and pepper, then press the herbs directly onto the meat. Sear each side in a very hot skillet on both sides, then remove and finish roasting in a 300 degree oven until cooked to your desired doneness.

Rosemary's Herbes de Provence Blend

3 Tablespoons dried marjoram
3 Tablespoons dried thyme
3 Tablespoons dried savory
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

Combine all herbs in small bowl; mix well, and spoon into a tightly-lidded, preferably opaque, jar. Store in a cool, dark place for four to six months. (After that, throw out what you have and get new herbs; while you can still use dried herbs past the six-month mark, they will start to show their age and lose flavor.

Basic Herbes de Provence

5 tablespoons dried thyme
3 tablespoons dried savory
2 tablespoon dried marjoram
5 tablespoons dried rosemary
1 ½ tablespoons dried lavender flowers

Same thing as the above: Combine all herbs in small bowl; mix well, and spoon into a tightly-lidded, preferably opaque, jar. Store in a cool, dark place for four to six months.

Sally's Four-Herb Provence Blend

1 Tablespoon chopped tarragon
1 Tablespoon chopped chervil
1 Tablespoon chopped chives
1 Tablespoon chopped parsley

Mix all herbs well in small bowl; crush lightly with the back of a spoon, before spooning the mix into a tightly-lidded jar. Store in a cool, dark place for four to six months.

Miriam's Sage and Lavender Provence Blend

3 tablespoons oregano leaves
3 tablespoons thyme leaves
1 teaspoon basil leaves
1 teaspoon sage leaf
3 tablespoons savory
2 tablespoons lavender flowers
1 teaspoon rosemary

Combine all herbs in small bowl; mix well, and spoon into a tightly-lidded, preferably opaque, jar. Store in a cool, dark place for four to six months.

Della's Busy Little Herb Blend

(No, I don't know how some of these got their names.)

1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon chervil
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 tablespoon summer savory
1 teaspoon lavender
1 teaspoon tarragon
1 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon mint
2 powdered or chopped bay leaves

Mix all herbs well in small bowl before spooning the mix into a tightly-lidded jar. Store in a cool, dark place for four to six months.

The Herb Gardener's Herbes de Provence

2 1/2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 1/2 tablespoons dried rosemary
1 1/2 tablespoons dried savory
1 tablespoon dried marjoram
2 teaspoons dried lavender

In a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, combine all herbs and grind until desired consistency. Store in a jar at room temperature; this spice mix will stay good for six months, but will decrease in flavor with time.

Now, a note on savory, as the above recipe just asks for "savory", not specifying summer or winter. Summer savory is an annual plant, and is a little lighter and sweeter than its companion plant, winter savory, which is stronger and somewhat richer--and also, a perennial. Think summer savory for chicken and fish and winter for beef and lamb, if that helps you understand the difference.

Finally, the one which has the most "out there" herbs I could find, but even this one would be great to use:

Elisabet's Provençal Herbs

1 tablespoon dried basil leaves
1 tablespoon dried marjoram leaves
1 tablespoon dried summer savory leaves
1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
2 teaspoons dried orange zest, powdered
1 powdered or ground bay leaf
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons dried lavender
1/8 teaspoon white pepper

Again, in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, combine everything and grind until fine (or until your preferred consistency is reached). Store in an amber or brown glass bottle with a tight-fitting lid, out of full sunlight. Good for six months.

So...now you have your Provençal blend...what do you do with it? How about fougasse, which is one of the originators behind the everywhere-at-this-point foccacia bread, but trust me--this version has much more flavor.

Or you could try rustic potatoes with herbes de Provence; that recipe uses purple, red and Yukon Gold potatoes, but you could substitute practically any potato and it would be good.

And if you want to try something really different, try these orange butter cookies with the mix. They definitely sound stellar; I think they're going on the list for the holidays when we get there.

Enjoy!

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