I mourn the end of herb season. I still run outside every day and snip whatever new shoots have survived the latest frost. I hoard little leaves in baggies - and wonder - who decided which of these wild leaves were edible? Was it trial and error? And what were the repercussions of the error?
When an inquiry came from Ariosto Seasonings to tried their dried-herb packets - I was intrigued. And the timing was perfect. All that's left of 60 herb plants are 3 slender strands of rosemary, an oregano bush, 6 sage leaves and two tiny parsley leaves. I received packets for meats, potatoes, tomato sauce, fish and pasta.
They contain only herbs, dried vegetables and salt. No MSG - no artificial colorings. Having just read in Cucina Povera _ Tuscan Peasant Cooking (highly recommended) that through the ages Italian women would mince herbs such as rosemary, sage or parsley with an equal amount of salt to flavor their dishes for the week, I decided if it was good enough for Italian women through the centuries, it was good enough for this American/Italian/Scottish/Latvian woman!
Below are recipes for pot roast, meatballs and salmon. They are tried and true - I have been using them for ... dare I say - decades - but now brightened by the seasonings.
I tried them on an American pot roast, in meatballs, tomato sauce and salmon. We were well-fed for the week! The pot roast seasonings contained salt, rosemary, garlic, sage, juniper berries, oregano, thyme and marjoram. I usually do salt, pepper, garlic and onions and call it a day. The seasonings worked. All was tender. Nothing was left over.
Pot Roast - Italian Style
(From Joan Lunden's Healthy Pot Roast circa 1996)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 pounds rump roast - trimmed
1/2-1 packet Ariosto Seasonings (I previously used salt and pepper)
1 large onion - cut into eighths
1-1/2 cups water
1/2 cup red wine (or use 2 cups water)
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
2 baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
6 carrots cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup Wondra flour
In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Season roast with Ariosto seasonings or salt and pepper and brown on all sides. Add onions and cook till browned (5 minutes). Add water, wine, broth Worcestershire sauce and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and simmer covered tightly for 2 hours. Periodically check to make sure broth has not reduced too much and add a little water if necessary. Add potatoes and carrots and simmer for 30 more minutes - until they are tender. Put meat and vegetables on platter and tent while you make gravy.
Gravy: Strain liquid, skim off fat and discard it. Measure the liquid - you will need 2-1/2 cups. Simmer down if there is too much or add a little water if there is not enough. In a small bowel whisk 1/2 cup water with the flour and slowly whisk into liquid/gravy. Bring to a boil and simmer five minutes - whisking the entire time. Pour some over meat and potatoes and serve or if you have a gravy-hating person in your family as I do, serve - passing gravy separately!
Turkey or Chicken Meatballs - makes 20
My father had heart disease early on so my mother looked to lighten many of her traditional dishes. She often used veal - or a mixture of meats - with a little beef. While a turkey or chicken meatball might make some Italian bloggers shudder - I will say my mothers substitutions - borne of necessity always were light, satisfying and never sat like a lump in your stomach! (And she never succumbed to using cottage cheese instead of ricotta!)
(These meatballs also works with beef or a mixture of beef and chicken - I rotate. And don't go looking for exact measurements here! I never make meatballs the exact same way twice - use what you have in your pantry - what herbs are fresh, what tastes delight you - it's down home peasant food made to stretch the meat!)
Meatballs for Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce - makes 20
1 pound ground chicken (or beef or turkey or pork or veal) or a mixture
1/2 seasoning packet Ariosto Seasonings for meat - or for tomato sauce
(I usually use some salt, pepper, fresh or dried oregano or basil, parsley and sometimes thyme)
minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
minced onion (about 1 small)
red pepper flakes (to taste)
2 pieces of bread (I use wheat) crusts removed, soaked in 2-3 tablespoons of milk
1/4 cup freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
In a large bowl mix all well. Form into small meatballs. (1-inch diameter for 20 meatballs). You can now:
1. brown in a skillet in the least mount of oil possible and add to tomato sauce
- or -
2. place on baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees F for about 20 minutes - you don't want them completely cooked - you still want the meat to flavor the tomato sauce. Scoop off of baking sheet and add to sauce - that does leave a lot of the fat behind.
The seasoning packets worked very well for the meatballs. For my taste - the seasoning packet was too salty for the tomato sauce. I like a very savory, herb-filled sauce and not a lot of salt. And I am someone who puts a salt lick on her Christmas wish list! But because the packets all do contain salt, I would definitely taste as I go.
And the easiest of all: the salmon!
Put the salmon in the center of a large piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper. Add 1/8-1/4 cup wine (can use fish broth). Add 1/2 packet Ariosto Seasoning for fish or 1 packet (depending on the size of your salmon) over all. Fold foil or parchment into a packet and bake at 350 degrees F for about 20 minutes. (Or grill for 1-15 minutes.) Done!
I will be doing this again and again for those days when I want something easy, quick, healthy and still a wee bit elegant.
The verdict from the family? All were delighted with their week's meals. My daughter and husband never met a food that didn't need more salt. I, on the other hand - salt carefully (which is maybe why other members of my family always add salt!). I will use these when I know that I usually generously salt a particular dish. Or use sparingly - in small amounts as I did for the salmon and meatballs. (The pot roast used an entire packet and was beautifully tenderized by it.)
This is not fast food. This is enrichment. From May-October, you will find me outside in thunderstorms with my herb scissors snipping away for the day's dinner. From November-April, I look to my Italian seasoning blends and herbes de Provence. The Ariosto Seasonings are a welcome winter pantry item. Ariosto Seasonings are sold in the USA in Massachusetts, North Carolina and New York. For recipes and how to order Ariosto Seasonings, please visit their website.