With little but brassicas still thriving in the garden and frost warnings putting gardeners across Toronto on edge, it’s time to haul in all the tender herbs. Soon, it will be pesto-city, and that’s the basil taken care of, but what about all the other flavourful greens too good to waste?
Executive Chef Jason Bangerter, is mad about herbs, and he is blessed with a culinary garden of delights. Just outside his kitchen at Langdon Hall Country House Hotel and Spa, near Cambridge, Ontario, the chef can stroll through his gardens picking and plucking any number of tasty, super fresh things. “I have fallen in love with, not only herbs, but their beautiful, delicious flowers as well,” says Bangerter. “Three of my absolute favourite and reoccurring obsessions have been with bronze fennel, chive blossom, and gem marigold.”
Langdon Hall’s gardening team use marigolds as natural pest control in the garden. “It’s citrusy sweet and reminds me of candy, think: orange or tangerine, flavoured gummy bears! I use the vibrant yellow and orange flowers as well as the plant’s leafy greens in many ways: in sugar and salt cures and marinades for vegetable, fish and seafood dishes; to flavour teas, cakes, cookies, creams, vinaigrettes and stocks; in both savoury and sweet recipes; or simply tossed fresh from the garden into salads or as garnish for a dish that benefits from the fresh citrus flavour of the plant.”
“At the end of the season we transplant some of our marigolds to the greenhouse to keep them going through the winter and any remaining plants I often make preserves with – marigold jam; infused sugar and oil, cures, and syrups – so that none of the plants go to waste and to give us some of that summer fresh citrus flavour throughout the colder months.”
For extra inspiration, we asked five chefs for their “desert island herb” and favourite way to use it.
Executive Chef and Owner of Colibri, Elia Herrera – From Cordoba in Veracruz, Mexico, Herrera recreates the traditional recipes passed down to her from her mother and grandmother at her Mexican restaurant. Herbs are a vital part of the finished product. Her choice came down to two favourite herbs. “Well, if I’m alone on a desert island, weed! It will help with imagination, I can cook with it and it’s more fun. But, seriously, cilantro. I can’t live without it. I use it to add freshness and some citric notes to any preparation: tacos, salsas, grain salads, dressings, and carnitas.”
Pastry Chef Kyla Eaglesham Kennaley – The celebrity chef has recently moved to London, England, but spends several weeks of the summer at the Canadian Film Centre in north Toronto, shooting CBC’s “The Great Canadian Baking Show,” where she’s a judge. When it comes to a favourite herb, she honours her grandma and her Polish roots through an unwavering love of dill. “Unfortunately I never met my mom’s mother, but she was also a cook and apparently a great baker. I have many memories of my own mother cooking with dill and my favourite comfort food is mushrooms and dilled sour cream on toast. My mom also made great Polish dill pickles, so I guess I would open a small cannery on my deserted island in her honour.”
Chef and Entrepreneur, Grant van Gameren – He’s busy with Bar Raval and Bar Isobel, but gave some time and thought to this agonizing choice. “Well lovage is one of my favorite herbs, but I’m wondering if I’d choose that if I was stranded on an island. Let’s go with cilantro, it makes everything taste better, and it’s similar to lovage. Dill would be nice too, but I feel like I’d get sick of it quicker, and basil is the easiest choice but I like more of a challenge. Final answer, cilantro! I love chopping it up fine and using it as a flavouring in a salad, or finishing a stew or soup with it; I feel like I would make a lot of soups and fresh fruit salads with it on an island.”
Chef Christine Cushing – From her ground-breaking show, “CC Live,” to her popular YouTube channel, “My Favourite Foods,” to judging Food Network Canada’s “Wall of Chefs,” Cushing never had to choose just one herb to cook with, until now. “My choice for desert island herb is tough, but I have to go with Greek oregano. I use it on roast chicken potatoes, grilled veggies, meat sauces and just sprinkled on feta and tomatoes – basically on everything. It’s in my DNA and I would have it in jars stashed all around the island. The earthy, intense aroma is so addictive!”
Chef Jagger Gordon – He’s probably best known for his non-profit organization, Feed it Forward, where the community-minded chef is on a mission to rescue and divert perfectly good, healthy food collected from stores, caterers, manufacturers and get it to those who need it most. But, he’s also the owner of Jagger Gordon Catering and the new executive chef at Blazing Kitchen/Rancho Relaxo. “Cilantro would be my chosen herb to live with,” says Gordon. “My life is continuously revolving around cilantro. Much of my culinary art is flavoured by the experiences I’ve had around the world, in places where cilantro and its seeds, coriander, are featured. I believe in feeding Canadians and not landfills and utilizing as much as possible from what Mother Earth offers. Coriander/cilantro is one of the only herbs in the world that you can eat from root to seed.”
Christine Cushing’s Greek Lemon Potatoes
These soft, lemony potatoes are a perfect accompaniment to any roast meat or poultry because they can be cooked at about any temperature and need little supervision. If you cover them while cooking, they will be more tender and less crisp. Greek oregano brings the magic.
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp water
1 tsp dried Greek oregano
6 medium baking or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut in half
1/2 tsp Sea salt or more to taste
1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper, or more to taste
Fresh, chopped parsley, marjoram, oregano for garnish, optional, to taste
Preheat oven to 375F/190C
In a large bowl, whisk together lemon zest, juice, olive oil, water and oregano.
Add the prepared potatoes to bowl with lemon mixture and toss to coat. Transfer to a roasting pan. Season with salt and pepper.
Roast potatoes until tender and golden brown, turning occasionally with a metal spatula to prevent sticking. Rotate pan midway for even browning.
Roast for about 35 minutes or until golden. Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley, marjoram, and oregano if desired.
Serves 8 as a side dish
Cilantro: If you think it tastes like soap, try it again
Shado beni, culantro, Chinese parsley, Mexican coriander, long leaf coriander and saw tooth coriander are herbs with a similar flavour to the more common and readily available coriander or cilantro. It’s a flavour vital to many cuisines – Mexican, South American, Indian, Asian, Caribbean – and loved the world over, but for a substantial chunk of the population, it tastes like dish soap. Haters have a gene that lets their taste buds perceive a chemical in the plant that’s used in soaps. Curiously, that gene can switch on and off throughout a person’s life; a hater can become a lover. Coriander also refers to the citrusy seeds of the plant, which are dried and used whole or ground.