08 Apr The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor
by Jerry Traunfeld
The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor should come with a warning label on the cover. One peek inside, and you will long for an herb garden of your own. Two peeks, and a watering can and pruning shears will seem like essential kitchen utensils.
In this collection of beautifully photographed recipes, IACP award-winning cookbook author and Herbfarm Restaurant chef Jerry Traunfeld takes us from the garden to the kitchen with inspirational ideas for simple but stunning meals made with fresh herbs. “When I cook with fresh herbs,” he writes, “it’s easy to achieve amazing results with little effort.” The magic begins in the garden, and that, too, is where Traunfeld starts.
The first section of the book – From the Herb Garden to the Cutting Board – offers general guidelines for planting, growing, maintaining, and harvesting herbs, followed by tips for storing herbs and using them in cooking. Traunfeld distinguishes between chopping, slicing, and tearing herbs for maximum potency and flavour, which is something this amateur cook has never really considered. The resulting difference in taste can, however, be quite dramatic.
Subsequent sections of the book are dedicated to Traunfeld’s amazing collection of recipes, with descriptions of, and tips about, different culinary herbs appearing here and there throughout the book. Much as a fragrant clump of mint or chives can appear in the midst of a garden, information about these and other herbs is scattered among and between the book’s many recipes. While this seemingly haphazard method of organization means a bit of digging is necessary to find a certain herb, it enables Traunfeld to surround information about an herb with recipes that call for and exemplify its particular characteristics. If only the Table of Contents listed the herbs found in each chapter of the book, the bounty of information provided would be that much easier to use.
And what a bounty it is! Clearly, Traunfeld knows his herbs. He explains why cooks should choose French tarragon over Russian, spearmint over peppermint, and bay laurel over California bay leaves, not to mention why dill should never be planted next to fennel. This book is an excellent resource for anyone interested in cooking with fresh herbs, and made this cook long for a small herb garden of her own.
Traunfeld’s recipes are organized into courses, from Herb Garden Beginnings through to Herb Garden Endings, with additional chapters covering drinks and breads. Although a number of dishes – such as Crab and Lemon Thyme Flan with Shaved Mushrooms or Goat Cheese Handkerchiefs with Tart Cherries and Sage – are favorites from The Herbfarm Restaurant, none is overly complicated. Pretty much every recipe can easily be prepared by home cooks. I tried two – Winter Greens with Sage-Poached Cherries and Herbed Bow-Ties and Tuna – with excellent results; the instructions were clear and each dish came together quickly. With complex, satisfying and sophisticated flavors, both the salad and pasta were simply excellent. Moreover, each turned out as beautifully as in the photographs. This is a book that can make a cook feel like a chef.
With only a handful of exceptions, the recipes generally do not give an equivalent measure of dried herbs to use instead of fresh. While Traunfeld’s passion for fresh herbs, and the flavor and vitality only they can impart, is admirable, the reality is that many of us do not have easy access to fresh herbs and must frequently rely on dried. Consequently, cooking from The Herbal Kitchen will require some improvising, or else should only be done when fresh herbs are on hand. I suspect Traunfeld, purist that he is, would prefer the latter. Certainly, that is when these fresh and flavorful recipes will be at their best.
As though the information contained within the book weren’t enough, inside the front cover is a list of The Herbal Kitchen Plants, which categorizes 26 different herbs into: The Essentials; Essential If You Live in a Climate with Mild Winters; Nice to Have; Easy to Buy, but Nice to Grow; and For Adventurous Cooks. The Latin name for each is also given, and each is classified as either annual or perennial, woody or herbaceous, even tree or bulb. This list is a boon for cooks just establishing herbal gardens.
Filled with gorgeous, full-page photos and Traunfeld’s warm and generous prose, this cookbook is a delight. Just don’t be surprised to find you’ve begun keeping your gardening gloves next to your oven mitts!
Review by Tania Denesiuk
Tania Denesiuk is a cookbook reviewer for The Gilded Fork, and she writes, cooks and eats in Toronto, Canada. Her culinary adventures can be found at www.candiedquince.ca.