Gardening Vivian | 01 May 2011 10:39 am

What to Plant in an Italian Herb Garden

You don`t have to be Italian to plant an Italian herb garden – but you do need to enjoy Italian cooking or at least like the look of an Italianate garden. Both are subjects on their own, so here we are going to limit our discussion to the herbs themselves, and throw in a bit of cooking.

While it is true that virtually every region in Italy has its own distinguished specialties in terms of food, the flavor of Italy is personified by a profusion of herbs – in particular aromatic basil, sage, rosemary, marjoram, thyme, mint, parsley and bay. These are typically combined with tomatoes, garlic, celery, leaks and onions, mushrooms and a mountainous selection of pastas and other foodstuffs – in no particular order.

So there`s your starting point in terms of what you should plant.

You will probably notice that most of the herbs and vegetables we have discussed are not exclusively Italian. Even the herbs that claim to be Italian (because of their name) are used for a range of different dishes from other countries as well as Italy. These include:

Italian lovage, a tall perennial plant that has serrated green leaves that look a lot like celery. In Italy the roots of lovage are skinned and cooked as a vegetable.

Roman and Florence fennel, both of which originated in Italy, and are believed to have been popular with the ancient Romans.

Italian parsley, which is where some species originated.

The bay tree also originated in the Mediterranean region and was used to make laurel crowns that were worn by the victors of national sports and even battles. Ancient Greek and Roman poets were also honored with wreaths of bay leaves.

The fact is that no herb is exclusive to any type of cooking, even though particular types of cuisine do depend on specific herbs! Get used to this idea and experiment with everything you grow in your own garden.

If you want to cook Italian using herbs from your garden, here are some sublimely simple ideas.

Pound fresh sweet basil leaves with Parmesan cheese, pine nuts and olive oil to produce a fresh pesto for your pasta.

Make an antipasto dish with sliced tomatoes and peppers from your vegetable garden and sprinkle finely chopped chives, onions and parsley over the top together with a little olive oil, coarse salt, ground black pepper and fresh lemon juice.

Make a garlic sauce for spaghetti by heating a chopped head of garlic together with a cup of finely chopped parsley and about the same amount of freshly torn basil leaves in a small amount of virgin olive oil. Season with ground coarse salt and black pepper.

Make a chunky tomato sauce for steak or pasta by simmering together 1-1/2 pounds of skinned and chopped tomatoes with six crushed cloves of garlic, four tablespoons of freshly chopped oregano, a teaspoon of sugar, salt, pepper and about five tablespoons of water in 1 oz of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil.

If that does not get you planting, nothing will!

Comments are closed.