Diana Henry’s three best recipes with fresh herbs

Diana Henry's three best recipes with fresh herbs

I’ve tried. There was an attempt 25 years ago, but I only got enough sorrel to put in a salad, and a small salad with it. Most of the coriander leaves were brown and stringy before I could even use them, and don’t even ask me about the chervil, the main reason I started the whole futile effort. I had failed to establish a herb garden.

When I moved fifteen years ago, I tried gardening again. I like scented geraniums and flower ice creams; I even love that you can take herbs and leaves and extract their flavors by adding them to sugar syrups or warm cream or vinegar. How many ribbons of flavor does this bring more flavor to your kitchen?

Some nights I find it hard to fall asleep, wondering what all I can do with it. So I bought beautifully scented geraniums with lots of notes on how to care for them and for a while I did. I used those leaves for a summer bread and butter pudding with raspberries, the rose geranium that smells the cream and milk.

But when the summer ended, I completely forgot about them, I forgot to check them, I forgot to move them inside. One day I looked out the kitchen window and they were dead. Except maybe they weren’t – they could have just slept. hibernation. Or the fall, or whatever they do. I knew so little about gardening that I couldn’t even tell if my plants were dead or alive.

Now — propelled by taste, the thing that keeps me up at night — I’ve got another stab at an herb garden. There is no problem with the main herbs. You can just buy parsley and mint. If you live near a Turkish or Middle Eastern store, you can buy them by the armful.

But the most common herbs are not enough. I want angelica, which I discovered in Iceland (they make it into jelly to eat with smoked lamb, in fact many of Iceland’s sheep graze on wild angelica). I want lovage and lemon verbena and I still crave aniseed chervil.

And then there are all the unknown herbs I encountered in Vietnam. I can keep telling you what a miracle herbs are; I can make you hungry. But I want to be practical. About 25 jars of herbs arrived two weeks ago. I had made a shortlist of twelve, thinking that if I kept my gardening ambitions small, I might succeed. Then I started shopping online, and common sense left me. The names of the herbs sounded soothingly enchanting when I said them to myself—anise hyssop, sweet cicely, summer savory—the herbal equivalent of the shipping forecast.

I checked my book on herbs by food writer and gardener, Mark Diacono. There’s a narrow section on the front about the growth, so I read it – using a red pen to mark all the important points – then contacted Mark to make sure I was over it.

First, he assured me that perennials were the way to go. They continue to grow, unlike annuals that you have to replant every year. As a rule of thumb, although herbs vary, water every few days and water around the base of the plant, not over the top. Give the plants liquid fertilizer every few weeks in the spring and summer. Don’t pick so much that you strip an entire plant of its leaves, but pick enough to encourage growth.

My pots are on the terrace. I visit them every morning before opening my laptop, picking the odd leaf and rubbing it between my fingers, although you can smell the different notes just by walking past the jars. The herb book, with the plant alphabet, is open on the kitchen table. I have a feeling it will work this time. This time I really care.

Linguine with pesto pazzo

This pesto is not Italian, in the sense that it came from my head, not an Italian’s. Pazzo is Italian for “crazy” because this is rather unorthodox. Sometimes I even add a few anchovies, sometimes a little chopped fresh chili.

I find basil a bit sticky on its own – it’s so perfumed – that’s why I make this with other herbs too. This is still quite rich but not overwhelming.