Since the beginning of civilization we are certain that spices played an important part in man’s daily life and death. Many discovered spices were found in Egyptian tombs as early as 3000 BC. Spices and herbs were also used to heal ailments. One other way spices have been used is based on their strong scent. Spices provided a way to perfume a room.
Now, that you have learned a little bit of history, come with me and lets explore the difference between a spice and an herb. A whole dried spice has the longest shelf life, generally two years. The shelf life of a ground spice is almost six months. Now, herbs consist of fresh leaves and stems crumbled or powdered. Dried herbs should be purchased by only the amount you need as it must be used within two or three days. Usually, 1 teaspoon of dried herbs equals 1 tablespoon of fresh. Another bit of information is that salt is a mineral not a spice.
Herbs are an important addition in Italian cooking. Herbs can be grown easily in pots or in the garden. They should be stored in the freezer or hung up to dry in a cool place away from the heat. Once dry, they should be placed in air tight containers. The list of spices and herbs that Italian’s mostly use with their recipes are too many to mention, so I am going to give you a few of the important ones that my family uses. Basil, Garlic, Oregano, Bay Leaves, Mint, Parsley, Black Pepper, Red Pepper Flakes, and Fennel.
My mom grew some of her own herbs in her garden which included mint, basil and parsley to just name a few. I especially loved to pick the mint leaves for her as it would leave my fingers with a cool mint scent. Parsley was another herb that was picked. I would wash the sprigs and then lay them out on a cookie sheet that had a dish towel on top of it. I would place each piece neatly in a line so they would dry out. This took a day or so to completely dry, then came the fun part. I would pull off the leaves from the stems on the parsley and with a cooking scissor I would cut the leaves into small little pieces. After they were cut up I placed the parsley pieces in an air tight container and stored in the freezer. This was a way my mom would be able to have fresh parsley that was dried at any given moment to create one of her special dishes.
|My parents wedding (1951)|
I hope that you enjoy cooking with spices and herbs. A pinch of this, or a handful of that, will make all of your recipes very special for your family. My recipe this week is “Mama’s Marinara Tomato Sauce” (no meat). No store bought pasta or spaghetti sauce can compare with the taste of a sauce that you make from scratch. This recipe was passed down from my grandmother to my mother and now I am sharing it with you. Hope that you enjoy!
“Mama’s Marinara Tomato Sauce”
2 cans of 28 oz. crushed tomatoes (Tuttorosso or Sclafani)
2 cans of tomato paste
Olive Oil or Wesson Canola Oil
5 large whole garlic cloves
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon of Oregano (flakes) *
1 tablespoon of Parsley (flakes) *
1 tablespoon of Basil (flakes) *
2 dried Bay Leaves
On medium heat sauté olive oil and garlic together. When garlic becomes pale gold and fragrant (do not burn) then add the crushed tomatoes and paste. Use the paste can and add ½ can of water. Stir, till well blended and now add salt, parsley, basil and oregano to taste, plus the 2 bay leaves. Stir well to combine and bring sauce to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer for 1 hour. You can add a small amount of sugar (optional) if desired, to cut some of the acid in the tomato. Cover on or slightly off to thicken sauce. Stir occasionally until sauce is thickened. When you lift the cover off of the pot, the aroma of your sauce will be so mouthwatering that you will not be able to wait to devour it.
This recipe makes enough for about 8 people, but you can freeze the leftover sauce, if there is any left.
*Note: If you are using fresh herbs, then you have to use more than a tablespoon or teaspoon. Just break off the leaves and use a rough chop on your herbs.
Till Next Time….
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