One of my favorite things about warmer weather are the garden-fresh herbs I plant in enormous pots that line my porch and walkway. I love that I can pluck some basil to make pesto whenever I feel inspired. Or snip some cilantro to garnish a Mexican dish or mix up a mojito with a sprig of mint. The best part? Fresh herbs add a lot of flavor with barely any calories and absolutely no fat. Get great recipes and tips for how to use other herbs, such as lemon verbena, marjoram and sage in EatingWell's Guide to Fresh Herbs.
Here are 5 of my favorite herbs to cook with.
1. Basil: No other herb epitomizes the taste of summer like basil. In Penne with Vodka Sauce & Capicola (see recipe below), a sprinkling of fresh, fragrant basil is the perfect foil to the velvety tomato sauce spiked with a few shots of vodka.
2. Cilantro: The pungent flavor and aroma of cilantro is popular in many ethnic cuisines, including Mexican and Vietnamese. Make some of our favorite recipes starring cilantro, like Grilled Chicken Tenders with Cilantro Pesto and Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette.
3. Lavender: Fresh or dried blossoms impart a delicate perfume to both savory and sweet dishes. In Honey-Lavender Plum Gratin, we infuse milk with lavender buds to perfume the honey-sweetened custard, creating an unusual, lovely backdrop for juicy plums.
4. Mint: A hardy perennial, mint has a reputation for taking over gardens, but considering its culinary uses, maybe that's not such a bad thing. Find great recipes for mint, such as fresh-tasting Lemon-Mint Snap Peas & Lima Beans.
5. Thyme: Best known as a background flavoring for stews and soups, thyme is one of the most versatile herbs. Let it shine in dozens of great dishes, such as Thyme- & Sesame-Crusted Pacific Halibut.
Penne with Vodka Sauce & Capicola
Active time: 20 minutes | Total: 35 minutes
Our velvety tomato sauce is spiked with cubes of salty capicola and a few shots of vodka. Make it a Meal: Caesar salad and a glass of Pinot Noir will shine with this dish.
12 ounces whole-wheat penne
1 2-ounce piece capicola or pancetta, finely diced (see Tip)
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup vodka
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup half-and-half
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook penne until just tender, 12 minutes or according to package directions.
2. Meanwhile, cook capicola (or pancetta) in a large saucepan over medium heat until crisp, about 4 minutes. Drain on a paper towel.
3. Return the saucepan to medium-low heat; add onion and garlic and cook until the onion is translucent, about 1 minute. Increase heat to high; add vodka and bring to a boil. Boil until reduced by about half, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, half-and-half, Worcestershire sauce and crushed red pepper to taste; reduce to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 10 minutes.
4. Drain the pasta; serve topped with the sauce and sprinkled with the capicola (or pancetta), basil and pepper.
Makes 6 servings.
Per serving: 311 calories; 3 g fat (1 g sat, 1 g mono); 9 mg cholesterol; 54 g carbohydrate; 12 g protein; 7 g fiber; 324 mg sodium; 517 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin C (25% daily value), Iron, Magnesium & Vitamin A (20% dv).
Shopping tip: Capicola and pancetta can be found in the deli section of most large supermarkets. Buy one thick piece for this recipe.
By Carolyn Malcoun
When associate editor Carolyn Malcoun came to Vermont to attend New England Culinary Institute, she knew she didn't want to work in a restaurant but knew that she wanted to do something in the food industry. Luckily she discovered EatingWell, where she's able to combine her love of food and writing.
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