It’s a wet and windy night – big fat raindrops are lashing the steamy kitchen windows as the last of May’s delicate flowers are swung wildly to and fro in the looming dusk. No idyllic sunlit shots of the allotment for Instagram tonight.
It’s the kind of weather that makes me want comfort food. For me, when I need to make something from the cupboard and not set a foot outside, that means one thing: pasta al’pomodoro. In my version I use ribbon pasta with a rich tomato sauce, with a hint of paprika and herbs. Simple yet hugely satisfying.
As I opened the jar of mixed herbs (dried in the shed last July) it was as though a waft of warm summer air hit me. The delicious, resinous scents of oregano, marjoram, thyme and rosemary floated up before they sank into the velvety red gloop.
The herbs lifted my dinner from the ordinary to something that (although simple), was hugely pleasurable. I’d never be without herbs in my garden. Luckily, there’s still time to plant herbs and get a bountiful harvest this summer.
There are loads out there. But which are the best? And how do you get the best value for money? Here’s my top 5, with a few quick and dirty tips thrown in;
- Thyme – a doddle to grow. Don’t bother with seed, buy a plant in spring and watch it romp away. Plant it somewhere sunny and give it a haircut after it’s flowered. Use it when you’re roasting chicken and/or vegetables, in casseroles and don’t forget that bees love the flowers too.
- Parsley – if you love Middle Eastern cooking, then couscous with chopped tomatoes, onion and parsley will be a familiar combination. Easy from seed (although you need to be patient for it to germinate), it likes a bit more water than most herbs. Flat leaf parsley tastes better than the curly sort, and if you let it flower it’s really good for attracting beneficial insects into the garden.
- Mint – all too easy – it’ll take over your garden given half a chance. Plant mint in a big pot, keep it well-watered and put it somewhere in dappled sunlight. Great in everything from mint sauce for lamb to a raita with a curry and, of course, in Pimms.
- Marjoram is a personal favourite of mine. From the golden marjoram that makes a wonderful foliage plant (when it flowers it is adored by butterflies and bees) to pot marjoram with its supremely fragrant leaves, this is one herb I couldn’t live without. Amazing with tomato-based dishes.
- Basil – June is basil time – it’s such a tender plant that I never really bother with it till now. June is the month when basil turns from being a faff to grow into something dead easy. Easy from seed; even easier to split up the supermarket pots of basil into individual clumps and plant them among your tomatoes. The perfect Italian meal, from plot to plate. Buon appetito!