Herbes de Provence, an assortment of dried herbs that are commonly used in southern France, was used to flavor the ratatouille (rat-a-too-ee) and roasted chicken pictured here. It may also contain lavender, the "mark of Provence."
Photo by Sue Ade/Morris News Ser
My small condo-sized summer herb garden is thriving. Because space is at a premium, plantings are limited to a few favorites. Parsley, basil, chives, sage and oregano are there. So is a patch of mint, two lavender plants and rosemary the size of a small bush.
Because I grew up in a family half French, the other Italian, where the use of herbs was as deep-rooted as the use of wine and olive oil for cooking, herbs are an important part of my own culinary journey.
As the growing season winds down, I like to dry herbs and enjoy making my own specialty blends for personal use or gift giving.
In the region of Provence in southern France, a magical blend of herbs called Herbes de Provence is used in a wide variety of regional specialty dishes such as ratatouille.
Amusingly, ratatouille has gained a measure of recent notoriety due to it also being the title of a newly released animated Walt Disney movie in which a rat named Remy, who gets "fancy with the spices," aspires to be a famous French chef.
It's easy to put together your own Herbes de Provence blend using, essentially, a combination of rosemary, thyme, basil, savory and marjoram.
Some devotees of Herbes de Provence like to throw fennel, sage and lavender into the mix, as well.
Italian herb seasoning blends are equally exciting taste experiences and are often the "secret" ingredients that go into many outstanding Italian culinary classics.
Many of us, including myself, use these "secret" ingredients to make specialty dishes uniquely our own.
If you like knowing about secrets, I've got a delicious one to share with you. Look for it in next week's herbal journey (part two) to Italy, where you also will find detailed directions for drying your own fresh herbs.
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