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2007 - Herbs of Provence

Herbs of Provence

Herbs of Provence Cookbook

Savoring the Herbal Flavors of Provence is a cookbook presented by The Madison Herb Society inspired by the cuisine of Provence, France. To celebrate the Madison Herb Society's twenty-fifth anniversary in the summer of 2007, the organization teamed with Madison's Olbrich Botanical Gardens for a garden and culinary tour of the Provence region. Savoring the Herbal Flavors of Provence cookbook grew out of this educational endeavor as members share what was learned and fulfill the mission of the Madison Herb Society, which is to teach the public about growing herbs and their uses.

May this cookbook inspire you to learn how to use herbs in your everyday cooking and increase your culinary enjoyment of every meal.

Herbs reign in Provençal kitchens
The recipes included in “Savoring the Herbal Flavors of Provence” will provide you a taste of the cuisine of Provence  — a cuisine known for simpler techniques and reliance on good seasonal food and cooking with a wide array of savory herbs.  

French Cooking: A Simple Cuisine
French cooking is often associated with refined and complicated sauces, but in the sunny, southern area of France known as ‘The Provence’ home cooks use simpler and more accessible techniques. The region is casual and cooks there use good ingredients that are most accessible to them. A reliance on the seasons for inspiration and simple preparations make their cuisine shine.

Olive Oil, Herbs and Garlic
Many Americans have the impression that French food is heavy and that it uses lavish amounts of butter and cream. The reality is that due to the Mediterranean regional influence, olive oil is favored. Herbs are plentiful in the household gardens and along the countryside. And hardly a day goes by without the addition of the pungent garlic herb. Some cooks claim any dish can be elevated to superb if just a hint of garlic is included.   

What is a Culinary Herb?
Besides garlic, Provençal cooks utilize many other herbs and most of them grow wild in the region. A basic definition? A culinary herb is a category of useful plants that are used as seasoning for food.

Common Culinary Herbs
Anise hyssop, basil (including cinnamon basil and lemon basil), bay laurel, chervil, chives (onion chives and garlic chives), cilantro, dill, fennel, hyssop, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lovage, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, rose scented geranium, sorrel, French tarragon, thyme (including lemon

Harvesting  Herbs
Herb plants like to be trimmed, and they grow back even fuller and healthier when you snip them. Use a scissors and cut them when you plan to cook with them to preserve their aroma and freshness. Keep your herb plants strong by avoiding cutting back your herb by more than one-third at one time. Also, harvest entire sprigs when possible.

Where to Grow Herbs
Your kitchen window, patio pots, mixed in the landscape or a dedicated garden area are all viable ways to grow herbs. Start with just one plant if necessary and see if the habit grows on you.

Herb Storage
To keep your cut herbs fresh for use for several days, you can often refrigerate them. Don't wash them before you store them as dry leaves keep fresher longer. If you want to store dry herbs, keep them in an air-tight, light-blocking container in a cool pantry.

Removing Stems and Chopping
A recipe that lists a fresh herb means to use just the leaves, and not the stems. This is primarily because the texture of the leaf is preferable to that of the stem. The finer you cut the leaf, the more flavor is released through the exposed surface area. The essential oils in the leaves blend into the food faster when the herb is chopped in small pieces. You can choose whether to chop, tear or snip depending on how long the dish will cook and the amount of flavor that needs to be released.

Adjust Herb Measurements for Strength
Herbs vary in strength of flavor depending on their freshness and growing conditions. The measurements for the fresh herbs in the recipes in this cookbook fall in the middle of the strength spectrum, so add more if the desired flavor is not as pronounced as you desire. Like salt and pepper, season to taste.  

When to Add Herbs to Cooking
Fresh herbs contain their flavor in their essential oils which dissipate easily. When adding delicate herbs to your cooking, add them at the end of the cook time so that their flavor is not lost into thin air. When cooking with dried herbs, you can often add them at the beginning or in the middle of cooking. Sturdy fresh herbs can also be added early in cooking.