Quick, Healthy, Springtime Dishes -- Featuring Herbs!
By Lidia Matticchio Bastianich,
Author of Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes
The use of fresh herbs has exploded in the American kitchen today. I recall that as a young apprentice in Italy -- at my great-aunt's apron strings -- for every herb we had in the garden, there seemed to be a pot on the stove to match.
Some herbs were better to cook with while others were better added at the end to a finished dish. For example, rosemary, bay leaves and thyme are mostly used for long cooking where their oils are extracted slowly out of their leaves. Sage, oregano and marjoram need very little cooking time, and herbs such as basil, parsley and mint are great to toss in raw at the end -- just enough to release their refreshing aromas.
If you have small children a wonderful way to introduce them to the enticing aromas of herbs is to gently crush the herbs in your hands and let them smell. I did this with my grandchildren when they were very small and it's a great way to get them excited about the world of herbs and food at an early age.
In fact, once you get your small children excited about herbs, introduce them to your own dishes. Here I'm sharing some of the quickest, and most child-friendly. Enjoy!
Makes 1 ½ cups
• 1 cup packed fresh Italian parsley leaves
• ½ cup packed fresh basil leaves
• ½ cup packed mixed fresh sage, thyme, and marjoram leaves
• 4 garlic cloves, peeled
• 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Wash the herb leaves in cool water and dry them thoroughly, preferably in a salad spinner. Combine the herbs and garlic in a blender and blend on low speed, slowly adding the oil while the machine is running, until the pesto is smooth and all the oil is incorporated. Add salt to taste.
Keep in a sealed jar in the refrigerator and use as needed. Pesto will keep refrigerated for up to 4 weeks or it may be frozen for up to 3 months. Make sure there is a thin film of oil over the pesto to keep its flavor and color bright.
Serves 2 as an appetizer, 1 as a lunch dish
From "Lidia's Family Table" (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004)
• 2 large eggs
• 2 tablespoons milk
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
• 1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
• 1 teaspoon butter
• 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Whisk the eggs, milk, salt, and fresh herbs until just blended together.
Heat the butter and oil in the small frying pan until it just starts to sizzle, then pour in the eggs and turn the heat down very low. Cook gently for 3 to 4 minutes. The eggs will start to puff up and sizzle at the edges. Lift a corner of the frittata with a spatula, and check to see if the bottom has browned in splotches. When it has, flip the frittata over by giving the pan a firm, quick shake up and over toward you so that the egg mass dislodges and flips over in one piece. Or, if that unnerves you, turn the frittata over with a spatula. Cook the second side for 1 ½ to 2 minutes, again checking to see if the bottom has browned to your liking. Serve right away, or let cool to room temperature and cut the frittata in wedges.
BAKED FISH WITH SAVORY BREAD CRUMBS
Landlocked Umbria does not have a seafood cuisine. But its mountain lakes, rivers, and streams abound in freshwater fish, like the tasty tench. This simple preparation is one I found in Umbria, and it is excellent for fillets of our sweet-water varieties, such as carp or whitefish, or even light ocean-fish fillets like sole.
• 2 pounds whitefish fillets
• ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
• 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• Juice of a large lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
• ½ cup white wine
• 6 plump garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
• ½ cup fine dry bread crumbs
• Zest of a large lemon (about 2 teaspoons)
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
• ½ teaspoon dried oregano
• ¼ teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste, chopped fine
• Fresh lemon slices, for serving
Recommended equipment: A 4-quart shallow rectangular baking dish; a heavy-bottomed skillet or saute pan, 12-inch diameter or larger, with a cover.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Lightly salt the fish on both sides, using about ¼ teaspoon salt in all. Pour 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, the lemon juice, white wine, and another ¼ teaspoon salt into the baking dish, and whisk together well. Drop in the garlic cloves, and stir with the dressing. Lay the fillets in the dish, turn and swish them in the dressing so both sides are thoroughly moistened, and arrange them, skin side down, in one layer.
Toss the bread crumbs in a bowl with the lemon zest, parsley, oregano, chopped peperoncino, and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Drizzle with the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, and toss the crumbs well until evenly moistened with oil.
Spoon the seasoned bread crumbs on top of the fillets in a light, even layer. Bake, uncovered, until the crumbs are crisp and golden and the fish is cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Lift the fish out with a spatula, and set on a warm platter to serve family-style, or on individual plates. Spoon over it the juices left in the baking dish, and serve right away, with lemon slices on the side.
© 2010 Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, authors of Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes
Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, coauthor of Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipe, is the author of five previous books, four of them accompanied by nationally syndicated public television series. She is the owner of the New York City restaurant Felidia (among others), and she lectures on and demonstrates Italian cooking throughout the country. She lives on Long Island, and can be reached at her Web site, www.LidiasItaly.com.