Growing your very own cuilnary herbs!

How many times have you started cooking and said to yourself, “Oh, I forgot to get basil at the store…”? Well, if you’re like the rest of us it has probably happened at least once. I’ve learned my lesson and try to the have the most commonly used herbs on hand, which I grow myself. Growing herbs is surprisingly easy because they do most of the work themselves.

You have two options to choose from:

  1. Growing from seed
  2. Growing using a start (A start is a plant that already has an established root system.)

You can buy seeds and starts from any local nursery or home improvement gardening center (Lowe’s and Home Depot have some of the best priced for start plants. The following are websites for your gardening needs.

Many of these herbs do well indoors, but depending on your Zone/region you may have better luck growing outdoors.

Here is a list of commonly used herbs that are necessary for cooking (no matter what type of cuisine you make):

  1. Genovese Basil (cultivar of ‘sweet basil’)
  2. Purple Basil (popular in Asian cooking, has several varieties)
  3. Chervil
  4. Chives
  5. Coriander Seed (popular in Asian cooking)
  6. Cilantro (the plant part of coriander seed, also popular in Asian cooking)
  7. Dill
  8. French Tarragon
  9. Garlic Chives
  10. Mint
  11. Oregano
  12. Parsley
  13. Rosemary
  14. Sage
  15. Thyme
  16. Green onions (scallions) – even those these are not classified as an herb or spice they are extremely easy to grow and can be done so by using store bought ones and cutting off the bulb, leaving about an inch or two above the bulb. Place in water to hydrate the roots for a few days then transfer to a pot or planter.

In most Mediterranean cooking there are just a handful of herbs that will be used for almost every dish.

  1. Genovese Basil
  2. Garlic chives (great for garnishing, salads, and panini)
  3. Oregano
  4. Parsley
  5. Rosemary
  6. Sage
  7. Thyme

I have found that in parts of Zone 9 and 10 (where I live in Florida) Oregano, Rosemary, and Thyme grow much better from starts rather than seed.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map:

zone_map2

There are a variety of  books from your local library or bookstore that discuss growing, but sometimes it’s trial and error, as it was in my case. You can even take some classes from your community college or look to volunteer at a co-op to learn more.

 

 

 

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Pizza Pie in the Making

tasty-italian-pizza-thumb13650278Over the years I have been able to compile a great number of recipes, both from my father’s family and my own. Since I love food to look it’s best as well as taste amazing, I have fine tuned my family’s recipes to fit a more elegant, vibrant, and modern twist of some terrific classic dishes. If you’re anything like me and almost everyone out there in the world, then you like pizza.

Many traditional pizza pies will have only olive oil, cheese, fresh herbs, and a variety of sliced vegetables or cured meats; Pizza actually dates back to the Roman days of Ancient Greece (which wasn’t referred to as ‘pizza’ and had possibly been around even before Romans occupied ¹Greece during the 1st millennium BC), where there were many kiosks or carts that made a flat bread style dough and added only cheeses, oils, cured meats and vegetables. It wasn’t until later that pizza had become what we know and love today.  Now some people like all the crazy toppings like pineapple, BBQ chicken, steak, BBQ pork, and so on, but that is a far cry from what a pizza should be… My opinion is it should never go on a pizza, but that’s just my opinion. Pizza needs to be simple and have just a few ingredients as the toppings so that you don’t lose the flavor of each ingredient.

¹Earth ovens were used during this time  as they were the most primitive form of a pizza oven. There are records that indicate portable earth ovens were being used during the Iron Age.

 

Pizza dough is critical and must be looked after properly. I like to make homemade dough, but when I’m in a rush or make several pizzas for a party I’ll use Ready-to-Use (actual unbaked dough) dough from my local grocer’s (Publix) bakery. It cost about $3.00 (Publix) and cuts the prep time down to more than half the time it would take to make dough from scratch, but there is something to be said for making your own dough. If you go the route of purchasing dough, then remember that you still must let it rise in a dark and warm (not pre-heated, rather natural temperature) area. For either store bought or homemade dough, after it rises you will kneed the dough for a few minutes then form it into a ball again and let it rise. I usually allow 30-45 minutes for the second rising. After the second rising you must kneed it once more for a few minutes; sometimes I will let it sit for about 10 minutes before I form the dough to the pan.

Recipes for flavored pizza dough:

Pizza Dough

  • 3 cups King Arthur Sir Lancelot Unbleached Hi-gluten Flour
  • 1 package active dry yeast (always check expiration date)
  • 1 cup of warm water
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 tsp kosher or sea salt

In a large mixing bowl combine 1 1/4 cup of the flour, the package of yeast and salt. Sift the mixture to distribute the dry ingredients evenly. Next, make a hole in the center of the flour mixture and add the warm water and oil. If using the an electric counter top mixer, then blend the mixture for 1/2 minute on lower speed, scraping the bowl. Beat 3 minutes at a speed setting of
3 or 4.

*NOTE: make sure that you are using the dough hook attachment for your mixer. Stir in the rest of the flour mixture, but saving about 1/4 – 1/2 cup. Use a spoon or fork to mix together. Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough for about 5-8 minutes, adding a little flour to make the dough moderating stiff; the dough should be smooth and elastic.
Roll the dough into the shape of a ball and place in a bowl then cover with a dry towel and place in a dark, dry area, like your oven (turned off). Waiting until the dough has doubled in size before removing it from the bowl. I find that it works best if you knead the dough a second time for approximately 1 minute, then roll the dough back into the shape of a ball and placed back in the bowl then cover and let it rest in a dark, dry area. The dough will rise again and then you are ready to roll out the dough into the desired shape. This recipe will make an 18″ thin crust or a 14″ large round pizza. If making a rectangle shape, then it will make a pizza approximately 18″ x 12″.

*NOTE: The hi-gluten flour will help make the dough more elastic and helps to make it rise better.

1. Garlic and Cheese Crust

  • 1 pizza dough (see recipe)
  • 2 Tbsp Garlic Powder
  • 2 tsp Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
  • 1/3 cup of grated Parmesan Cheese

2. Herb Crust

  • 1 pizza dough (see Recipe)
  • 1 Tbsp Garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
  • 1 Tbsp Dried Oregano
  • 2 1/2 tsp Thyme
  • 2 tsp coarse Sea Salt

3. Sun-dried Tomato Crust

  • 1 pizza dough (see recipe)
  • 1 tsp Garlic powder
  • 1 tsp Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
  • 1/3 cup Sun-dried Tomatoes, roughly chopped (must be drained well if using tomatoes kept in oil)
  • Pinch of Fine Grade Sea Salt

Whether you’re creating these Specialty crusts or your own, the special ingredients must be folded in the dough by hand and blended well to ensure that the dough has an even amount of ingredients throughout the crust.

Infused oils are another great way to and flavor to a crust, though I haven’t seen too many pizzerias or restaurants use infused oils. You can either buy infused oils or make them you self. Infused oils are relatively easy to make,all you need is good quality Extra Virgin olive oil and a creative mind.
The following are some good recipes to try.

1. Roasted Garlic Oil

  • 1 1/2 cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Large Bulb of Garlic

Preheat oven to 375 F and adjust the rack on the lowest setting . Place whole garlic bulb on a sheet pan, leave the outer skin on the garlic. Place pan in the oven on the lowest rack and bake for about 10-15 minutes. Ovens vary so make sure to check the garlic to prevent it from burning.
Once the garlic is done, remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Once the outer part is cool enough to touch begin to peel the skin off and pull apart the cloves. Carefully peel the cloves and remove the soft garlic. Be care because the garlic could still be hot. Once all the cloves are peel place all of the garlic in a mixing bowl. With a fork, lightly press the garlic to release the aromas and flavors. Place garlic in an air tight container (I use glass mason jars) then add the oil. Close lid tightly and place ins a dark, dry area and leave for 48-96 hours. When you are ready to use the oil, it must be strained. Using a fine mesh strainer or a chinois strainer (also called China Cap; “chinois” is a French for Chinese) lined with 1 layer of cheese cloth. Because of the viscosity of the oil it may take a while, but the end product is worth the wait! Place strainer over a larger bowl or measuring cup (preferably 4 cup) and begin to pour the oil over the strainer. Once all the oil is strained, then pour into a clean jar and close lid tightly. Now you have a homemade infused oil. Shelf life will hold for about 2 weeks.

2. Rosemary Oil

  • 1 1/2 Cups Olive Oil
  • 2/3 Cup Fresh Rosemary leaves
  • 4 Whole Peppercorns

Using wax or parchment paper, roll out a sheet about 2 ft long. Spread the rosemary out on top of the paper and with a rolling begin to gently roll over top the rosemary. The rosemary needs to be bruised in order for the essential oils to be released. Roll back and forth a few times. Place rosemary in an air tight container (I use glass mason jars) then add the oil. Close lid tightly and place ins a dark, dry area and leave for 48-96 hours. When you are ready to use the oil, it must be strained. Using a fine mesh strainer or a chinois strainer (also called China Cap; “chinois” is a French for Chinese) lined with 1 layer of cheese cloth. Because of the viscosity of the oil it may take a while, but the end product is worth the wait! Place strainer over a larger bowl or measuring cup (preferably 4 cup) and begin to pour the oil over the strainer. Once all the oil is strained, then pour into a clean jar and close lid tightly. Now you have a homemade infused oil. Shelf life will hold for about 2 weeks.

3. Pepper Oil

  • 1 1/2 Cups Olive Oil
  • 3 Whole Pepperoncini Peppers, drained of excess juice.

On a cutting board, cut the tops off of the peppers and make 2 small incisions lengthwise. Place pepperoncini in an air tight container (I use glass mason jars) then add the oil. Close lid tightly and place ins a dark, dry area and leave for 48-96 hours. When you are ready to use the oil, it must be strained. Using a fine mesh strainer or a chinois strainer (also called China Cap; “chinois” is a French for Chinese) lined with 1 layer of cheese cloth. Because of the viscosity of the oil it may take a while, but the end product is worth the wait! Place strainer over a larger bowl or measuring cup (preferably 4 cup) and begin to pour the oil over the strainer. Once all the oil is strained, then pour into a clean jar and close lid tightly. Now you have a homemade infused oil. Shelf life will hold for about 2 weeks.

When making a pizza, whether you’re using a sauce to spread over the dough or going for a more traditional pie, remember to use the freshest ingredients that you can; this is the difference between night and day. You might want to consider buying vegetables that are in season and local rather purchasing something that has to travel 500 miles to your destination. Food usually will look and taste better when using fresh ingredients.

Here are some ideas for you to try next time you make a pizza:

  • Mushrooms, green bell peppers, and yellow onion
  • Roma tomatoes, Italian sausage, and fresh basil
  • Black olives, green bell peppers, and Roma tomatoes
  • Pepperoni, Pancetta, green bell peppers, and diced tomatoes
  • Zucchini, black olives, diced tomatoes, red onion
  • Italian sausage, diced pepperoni, mushrooms, purple onion
  • Anchovies, Roma tomatoes, and purple onion

If using onions, the best way is to slice them thin using a julienne cut (long thin strip, think of a match stick).

Also, if using a marinara sauce, the sauce must be cooked down to remove excess liquid. Nobody wants to eat a soggy pizza. When you cook down the sauce you are basically cooking over med. low heat for and extended amount of time. A typical marinara will cook for at least 4 hours and no more than 6 hours. You have to keep a close eye on the sauce and stir frequently so that doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pan. A pizza sauce should be fairly thick (consistency should be a little less thick than tomato paste). I usually use straight, 100% tomato paste and blend a few herbs and spices to it; this goes right on the pizza at room temperature before putting the pie in the oven.

The recipes above are ones that I use, but almost any type of spice and herb can be used to make infused oils. The juice from citrus fruits can be use as well, which would go well with seafood, but that will be covered in another topic later on.

I hope that you can enjoy these recipes and create a wonderful collection of mouthwatering pies, the possibilities are endless. Mangiamo!