Make the most of culinary herbs and spices.
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The Herbfarm Cookbook (Scribner 2000) has always been listed as a recommended resource at aPinchOf.com due to its subject matter and rave reviews upon publication. Only recently, however, when I checked out a copy from the library have I actually come to understand just what a valuable resource it really is.
Chef Jerry Traunfeld has created a masterpiece. Self-described "herb zealot," Traunfeld offers incredible recipes followed by authoritative sections on growing and handling fresh herbs. He keeps the flavors clean and the instructions straightforward while offering new combinations that are sometimes unusual but always delightful.
The Herbfarm restaurant sits surrounded by herb gardens in the shadows of Washington State's Cascade Mountains, east of Seattle. Guests must make reservations for a single seating each day. Constantly changing, the menu is composed of a nine-course meal featuring fresh herbs on parade.
The Herbfarm Cookbook allows you to prepare some of these culinary delights in your own kitchen. The Herbfarm Garden Salad is simply amazing. Each leaf and sprig is chosen early in the day, dressed separately and arranged on a plate. Traunfeld writes, "At the height of the season the salads can feature up to thirty elements and take the gatherer about three hours to harvest the thousand-plus individually selected pieces." He furnishes a four-page chart in the book listing possible ingredients with a description of how they look and taste, which parts to use and when they are in season.
Nearly every recipe in the book begins with background, hints or explanations. More often than not, you will find herbal substitutes, cook's notes and variations at the end of each recipe. The numbered instructions are clearly written, full of detail with what to expect and what to watch for.
I prepared the recipe for Herbed Focaccia using a single herb, rosemary, rather than the recipe's herb mixture as Traunfeld suggested in the 'herb substitutions.' The method for preparing the bread was clever and the results, divine.
The fish recipes in The Herbfarm Cookbook are inspired. Consider Fish Fillets Steamed in Lettuce Leaves with Lemon-Dill Sauce or Rainbow Trout with Browned Herb Butter. Roasted Shrimp with Marjoram turned out just as the recipe promised in my kitchen. As the chef says, "…large shrimp are tossed with garlic, oil, lemon and marjoram and quickly roasted in their shells…it adds an enormous amount of flavor."
Classic recipes have been taken to new heights here as well. Green Goddess returns in a grilled chicken salad, the dressing packed with fresh tarragon, parsley and chives. Chicken le Cordon Bleu is updated with a mixed herb crust rather than the traditional heavy breading. Lavender livens up a rack of lamb while homestyle garlic bread gets bundled in fresh herbs. Crème anglaise is made with herb-infused milk and served to you in a simple foolproof recipe.
And then there are the absolutely innovative recipes. Who would have thought of Herb Tempura?! Or Cinnamon-basil ice cream? Have you ever considered Lettuce and Tarragon Soup or adding apples to your black bean soup?
As if thirteen chapters of wonderful recipes weren't enough for one book, we then get to delve into four more chapters about herbs in general. "Herbs at the Kitchen Door" covers the basics of growing your own fresh herbs. The chapter is illustrated with beautiful watercolors of seventeen plants and includes a helpful chart of growing requirements.
"Herbs in the Kitchen" tells you how to choose herbs at the market, what to do with them when you get them home and offers ten pages on how use them in cooking. Another chart indexes the flavor characteristics, yields, what foods they go well with and the best herbal partners of thirty herbs. "The Herbs: A Roll Call" describes individual herbs and then lists how to cook, grow, harvest and store that herb.
Finally, "Cooking with Flowers" introduces us to the best blossoms to use and how. Traunfeld drops hints of compatible foods and serving tips as he points out the flavor highlights of fourteen varieties of flowering plants.
The Herbfarm Cookbook is a rare find for people who love to cook with the freshest ingredients. The wide-ranging recipes are elegant yet use everyday ingredients. Each one of the five I have tried so far produced the expected results without complication.
Before I have to return this book to the library, I will be ordering my own copy. Suddenly I realize my herbal reference library as well as my cookbook collection have been lacking.