Herbes de Provence

Herbes de Provence is an essential ingredient in my summer kitchen. The flavor is a natural fit with so many of the dishes of the season. Mixed with olive oil, Herbes de Provence is perfect for roasted chicken or potatoes. I love to sprinkle it over homegrown tomatoes with salt, pepper and a little feta cheese.

This herb blend originates in Provence, France, down in the southwest near Italy. It is an assortment of herbs that reflect the traditional, native herbs commonly used by cooks from this region. Common herbs are thyme, fennel, sage, summer savory, rosemary, coriander, basil, anise, mint and tarragon. Lavender is sometimes added to the blend, especially here in the U.S.

Traditional cooks in the region don't have a "mix". Instead they use the herbs as needed to suit their tastes. Spice wholesalers are responsible for the dried blends commonly found in stores.

Herbes de ProvenceYou can easily prepare Herbes de Provence with the herbs growing in your garden. During the summer months use them fresh as a bouquet garni for soup or stew. The traditional French bouquet garni is a small "bundle" of herbs tied together with cotton string or put into a sachet or tea strainer and added to the recipe. This method makes the removal of the herbs much easier before serving the dish. It is usually comprised of parsley, thyme and a bay leaf but you won't stray from tradition if you just use what you prefer. Herbes de Provence are also delicious chopped and sprinkled over any number of fresh veggies.

Be sure to prepare a dried blend at the end of the growing season to use during fall and winter.

My Herbes de Provence recipe includes sweet marjoram, thyme, sweet basil, rosemary and lavender. In addition to tasting great, these herbs are some of the easiest to grow. Here are a few tips to help you do just that.

Sweet Marjoram

A low-growing plant, marjoram will make a nice edging along a walk or border. It likes full sun but will also grow in some shade in well-drained soil. Harvest marjoram as needed; it keeps its full flavor when dried. It is good in salads, vinaigrettes and butters. When used in cooking should be added shortly before serving.

Thyme

A good plant for edging and ground cover, thyme's small leaves are full of flavor. Liking full sun and well-drained soil, it needs little care. Pinching back by 1/3 in spring will help keep it bushy. Remember to never pinch the stems back into the old wood. Harvest thyme at any time and strip the leaves from the stem to store. The tiny leaves dry very fast. Use it in beans, meat stews and sauces or add to butter to use on breads.

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Sweet Basil

A pretty plant coming in different colors and sizes, basil is definitely a warm-weather plant. It likes full sun and moist soil and could definitely use some afternoon shade in the hotter climates. Don't plant out too early as they are very sensitive to cold temperatures. Basil can be harvested continually by pinching the leaves from the stems and pinching the tips of the plant to keep the plant branching and producing more leaves. Keeping the flowers pinched off will keep the plant growing and producing until frost. Use fresh with tomatoes, in soups, salads, sauces and of course, pesto.

Rosemary

An easy plant to use in borders and beds because of its evergreen quality, rosemary likes full sun and light, well-drained soil. The small blue flowers are both pretty and edible. Harvest leaves just prior to the blooming stage, hang in bunches to dry and strip the leaves from the stems to store. Use it with lamb, pork and chicken as well as in soups and stews, vegetables and sauces. It also makes good marinades.

Lavender

A beautiful plant grown primarily for its flowers and fragrance, lavender can withstand heat and drought fairly well. They like full sun with good air circulation and a very well-drained soil. They bloom in the summer and deadheading will promote continued bloom until frost. Harvest lavender stems at any time. The flowers will keep their fragrance for months when you harvest just before they open. Gather them into a bunch and hang them upside down to dry. Fresh flowers may be used in sauces, marinades and desserts.

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This article is brought to you by Bonnie Plants. To learn more about Bonnie Plants and information about growing herbs and vegetables visit www.BonniePlants.com.

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