Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Fresh Herbs

Fresh mint growing in our vegetable garden with the mountains in the background

There are few things more enticing than the scent of fresh garden herbs. Pinching off a leaf of mint conjures the extravagance of drinking tea in a Moroccan market, and burying your nose into a basil plant recalls the surprising freshness found in a perfect salad roll. Such sensory experiences are a delight and our vegetable garden is full of fresh herbs waiting to delight and stimulate our guest’s senses.

Lettuce Basil

We love using fresh herbs and often try growing different herbs to see how they perform both in the garden and in the kitchen. This year we conducted a basil trial with nine different types of Basil, I never knew there were so many diverse types. We wanted to find which type of Basil would grow best in our vegetable garden. How ignorant I was thinking we would be able to settle with just one type of Basil. Nine different types with such an array of names, sizes, aromas, colours and flavours, there is no way I could select just one type. Here is a description of just three to give you an idea of some of the tantalizing variety.

Basil trial with nine different types of Basil

Greek Basil

Purple Delight Basil

There is “Purple Delight Basil” with purple stems and leaves, lilac flowers with a deep beetroot coloured centre. It has a delightful heady aromatic scent with an undertone of blueberry and a rich, strong and vibrant peppery taste. Another we are trying “Lemon Basil” has green stems and narrow leaves with white flowers on pronounced spikes. It has a dynamic zesty and citrus scent with a tingling lemon and lime taste. Or there is the Christmas Basil with its purple stems and striking small glossy green leaves and dark purple flowers. It has a summery, fruity aroma with a hint of pine and a refreshing taste involving elements of clove and refreshingly subtle mint. What an explosion of scents and taste!

A Cauliflower salad garnished with boiled egg, fried breadcrumbs and parsley.

Leek salad with a beetroot mayonnaise and garlic chives

At this time of year many people are drawn towards the ever-popular combination of fresh basil with vine-ripened tomatoes but fresh herbs like basil are so versatile and with a little imagination so many dishes can be enhanced. What about a basil and walnut pesto to dress a pasta salad, or using the marbled purple Arafat basil with its delicate aniseed scent in a freshly prepared coleslaw or just adding a touch of mint to a courgette soup. My mouths watering as I write! The great thing about using fresh herbs in cooking is that they are milder than their dried counterparts, and you can’t make a terrible mistake.

Garlic chives in flower

Fritillary butterfly settling on marjoram flowers.

We grow many types of herbs including; parsley, thyme, marjoram, oregano, sage, tarragon, garlic chives to name a few. And it’s not just us who enjoy the fresh herbs. When the marjoram is in flower there is a continue buzz as an array of bees, and other insects arduously visit the pink flowers to collect the nectar. The butterflies that delicately dance around our vegetable garden always seem to look for the herb garden to settle and poise, and then sun their wings whilst sampling the herb’s aromatic nectar.

Lemon verbena herbal tea.

We don’t just use herbs in cooking; fresh herbal teas are deliciously clean, refreshing and invigorating. We serve both mint and lemon verbena teas when in season, what a lovely way to end a delicious evening meal. And then there is our popular soap; made by a local artisan with organic olive oil and scented with fresh lemon verbena grown and harvest from our farm, another sensory delight!

Our soap made with organic virgin extra olive oil and fresh lemon verbena

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Hotel Posada del Valle is a small hotel in Asturias Northern Spain surrounded by its own organic farm and where we are passionate about organic farming, food, and sustainable livelihoods. In this Blog those of us who live and work at Hotel Posada del Valle open a door to share with all of you who are interested in what we are doing.