Fresh herbs build flavour in summer meals

An herb garden is every cook’s best friend. Fresh herbs can elevate a simple potato salad to one that will have all your friends begging for your recipe. Herb gardens should be planted close to where they will be used. An ideal spot is near the patio. The aromas will delight during outdoor meals and get togethers.

Pick herbs at their peak for preserving. Drying is recommended for stronger flavoured herbs such as rosemary, tarragon, thyme, mint and sage. Finely chop and freeze chives, basil and parsley.

Rosemary Focaccia

Focaccia is an Italian flat bread. Slice horizontally for summer sandwiches or cut into wedges to have it with a meal or dips.

  • 1 medium potato peeled and quartered
  • 1 1/2 tsp. rapid rise yeast 7 mL
  • 1/2 c. unbleached all purpose flour 125 mL
  • 1/2 c. warm water 125 mL
  • 3 1/2 c. unbleached all purpose flour (or a combination of durum 
and flour) 875 mL
  • 1 c. warm water 250 mL
  • 1/4 c. olive oil, plus more for oiling bowl and pan 60 mL
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt 7 mL

Bring one quart (1.25 L) water to boil in small saucepan. Add potato and simmer until tender. Drain and cool. Put through a ricer and reserve 1 1/3 cups (315 mL) lightly packed potato.
Meanwhile, mix yeast, 1/2 cup (125 mL) flour and 1/2 cup (125 mL) warm water in large bowl with an electric mixer until combined. Set aside until bubbly, about 20 minutes.
Add the remaining dough ingredients, including reserved potato. Mix with a paddle attachment on low speed until the dough comes together. Switch to a dough hook attachment and increase the speed to medium. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic, about five minutes, or knead by hand until smooth and elastic. At this point, the dough can be refrigerated or frozen until ready to bake. To use, defrost and rise as directed.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat with oil and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm, draft-free area until the dough is puffy and doubled in volume, about one hour.
Wet your hands to prevent sticking. Halve the dough and flatten each piece into an eight-inch (20 cm) round on a large, generously oiled baking sheet. Cover the dough with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm draft-free area until the dough is doubled in volume, 45 to 60 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C). With two or three fingers, dimple dough at regular intervals. Make about two dozen dimples. The dimples should be deep enough to hold small pieces of topping, herbs and pools of olive oil.
For the topping, drizzle the dough with oil and sprinkle evenly with rosemary and coarse salt, landing some in pools of oil.
Bake for about 25 minutes or until the bottoms are golden brown. Let it cool a bit, but it should be eaten warm. 
- Adapted from Cooks Illustrated.

Chickpea, Lemon and Mint Salad

I cook my dried chickpeas in a pressure cooker for 15 minutes. Otherwise, soak overnight and boil in fresh water for about an hour. Canned or dried chickpeas can also be used.

  • 3 c. drained, cooked chickpeas 750 mL
  • 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil 45 mL
  • 3/4 tsp. sea salt 4 mL
  • 3 tbsp. finely chopped fresh mint leaves 45 mL
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice 10 mL
  • 1/4 c. feta 60 mL
  • freshly ground black pepper

In a large bowl, toss the chickpeas in the olive oil with the salt, mint, lemon zest and juice and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. Crumble feta over salad and serve. Serves four.

Fennel Crusted Rack 
of Lamb

This is fancy enough for company. Fennel fronds are the wispy ends of a fennel bulb. Parsley, rosemary or mint can be substituted for fennel fronds.

  • 1 rack of lamb
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil 30 mL
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped fennel fronds 125 mL
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 c. breadcrumbs 125 mL
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon zest 5 mL
  • 3 tbsp. melted butter 45 mL

Preheat oven to 500 F (260 C).
Combine fennel, garlic, breadcrumbs and lemon zest. Mix in butter.
Rub the rack with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place meat side down on a baking sheet. Roast until browned, eight to 10 minutes.
Turn the rack meat side up and pat the breadcrumb mixture over the meat. Roast five minutes more for rare, longer if desired. Keep warm in the oven until served.

New Potatoes with Tarragon and Chives

  • 1 lb. new thin skinned potatoes 500 g
  • 2 tbsp. butter or duck fat 30 mL
  • salt, to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp. fresh, lightly chopped tarragon 15 mL
  • 1 tbsp. minced chives 15 mL
  • olive oil, optional

Cover potatoes with water and bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium low. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes.
Strain and allow the potatoes to cool until you can handle and peel them, if desired. Cut them as desired.
Melt butter in the same pan you cooked the potatoes in and add salt and pepper. Swirl the butter and add potatoes, stirring gently to coat with butter. Add tarragon and chives and stir to distribute the herbs. Taste. Add a tablespoon of olive oil if desired and more salt if needed. Cover until ready to serve. Gently reheat if you want. Garnish with chive blossoms. – Adapted from Michael Ruhlman

Argentinian Chimichurri Sauce

  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and 
coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 c. packed fresh oregano leaves 60 mL
  • 1/4 c. red wine vinegar 60 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes 3 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 3 mL
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 c. extra virgin olive oil 250 mL

Place parsley, garlic, oregano, vinegar, pepper flakes, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment. Process until finely chopped, stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed for about one minute.
With the motor running, add oil in a steady stream. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and pulse a few times to combine. Transfer the sauce into an airtight container and refrigerate at least two hours or up to one day to allow the flavours to meld.
Before serving, stir and season as needed. This will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Sarah Galvin is a home economist, teacher and farmers’ market vendor at Swift Current, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. She writes a blog at allourfingersinthepie.blogspot.ca. Contact: team@producer.com.