09 Feb Rosemary: The Scent of Inspiration
a test kitchen dossier
There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.
Hamlet; IV, v. Ophelia to Laertes
Etymology: From the Latin rosmarinus, “dew of the sea.”
Area of Origin: The Mediterranean
Herbs have been valued for centuries for their culinary, medicinal and decorative purposes. Though they may look to some like common weeds, their delicious, evocative scents lure passers-by just as gardenias woo honeybees. What passionate woman (or man) wouldn’t love to be greeted with a bouquet of basil or thyme? Or better yet, a wreath of rosemary which not only pleases the eye with its beautiful blue-grey flowers and the nose with its spicy, sweet, singular scent, but most of all pleases the mind with its symbolic qualities: Rosemary represents friendship, love and fidelity — and possesses far more character than a simple rose.
Like other long-beloved foodstuffs, rosemary has inspired a certain amount of rumor and superstition. Brides carry rosemary for a long and happy marriage; sleeping with rosemary under your pillow is supposed to ward off bad dreams; the scent of rosemary is believed to be a memory aide; and carrying rosemary on your person was believed to ward off evil in medieval times. In fact, recent studies have suggested that rosemary may actually help you remember things. As for warding off evil? We can’t be sure, but tuck a few sprigs of rosemary wrapped in gauze into your sock drawer, and they will certainly ward off evil aromas.
Whatever rosemary’s ancillary benefits and applications, we here at the Gilded Fork hold cooking with rosemary near and dear to our hearts. Though it can sometimes be a little spiny, and its powerful and complex fragrance must be tempered and used with care, rosemary adds elegance, mystery and just a hint of spice to an array of culinary delights.
Rosemary — which is botanically related to basil, marjoram and oregano — originated in the Mediterranean. Despite the meaning of its original name, however, it is rarely found growing near to the ocean. Rosemary is still used most frequently in Mediterranean counties, especially in Italy and France. A medieval document called the Capitulare de villis — a government edict issued by the Emperor Charlamagne around 800 c.e. — dictated that rosemary be grown in all monastery gardens. The herb was brought to Australia and the United States by British colonists, and we know that it was highly prized in the American colonies, as the plants were brought indoors each winter and carefully tended. Today rosemary is grown in all Mediterranean countries, as well as England, the United States, Mexico and Australia.
Rosemary can be grown from cuttings or from seed. Choose a spot that gets plenty of sun, but make sure to water it during hot weather. In cold-weather climates rosemary should be grown in pots so it can be brought indoors in the winter. Rosemary will grow to a height of about five feet, and the plant regenerates quickly as it is used. Not only will a rosemary plant provide you with plentiful kitchen fodder, it will also fill your garden with its enchanting smell. Also, for those with larger gardens (and green thumbs), rosemary is a companion plant for cabbage, beans, and carrots; growing it near them helps to protect against certain pests.
Rosemary is commonly used in French and Italian food, especially as a component of herbes de Provence (a traditional herb mix of rosemary, marjoram, basil, bay leaf, thyme and sometimes lavender flowers). And while rosemary is famous for pairing with lamb, it can also play a transcendent role in poultry, fish and vegetable dishes; just remember, if you’re planning to leave the rosemary in the finished dish, you must chop it to a very fine consistency or else you will feel like you are swallowing pine needles.
Try simmering rosemary in a simple pan sauce for chicken, then strain the sauce to remove it; or add one or two whole rosemary stalks to roasted zucchini and simply remove them from the finished dish. Rosemary is also a wonderful component in drinks and desserts: Make a rosemary simple syrup and use it in everything from iced tea to a Tom Collins (gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and club soda). Rosemary is particularly surprising and delightful in ice cream.
Note: Dried rosemary, like dried thyme, is more powerful than its fresh counterpart, so modify recipes as necessary, and use dried rosemary with care or your finished product could taste a little too much like potpourri.
Ever After Cocktail
Roman Roast Leg of Lamb with Orzo
Rosemary & Brie Popovers with Honeyed Pears (see variation)
Rosemary & Honey Roasted Pears
Rosemary Corn Financiers
Rosemary Lobster Fricassé with Baby Vegetables
Dossier by China Millman