Herbing it up: Rosemary

A branch of rosemary goes a long way. Add it to a spice blend and it will stand out. Brush chicken or lamb with a sprig before grilling and even if it’s absent from the serving platter, the flavor and fragrance remains. Of all the aromatics, rosemary seems to dry best, retaining almost as much flavor as it has when it’s fresh.

In our climate, rosemary thrives in large clay pots placed in direct sun. It will grow in the shade, but do not expect the flavor to be as intense. It cannot stand temperatures below zero, so plan on carrying the clay pot indoors at the danger of first frost. Place it in a sunny window and snip what you need. Be careful not to overwater.

I’ve killed a few rosemary topiaries. Garden stores are good at training this pine-fragranced herb that has always reminded me of Christmas. No matter how attentive I’ve been with decorative rosemary, I can never keep it trimmed to hold its line. Once it’s on its way out, rather than mourn the loss, I sprinkle the dried remains over a grilling fire. It imparts a subtle aroma, especially to delicate vegetables and fish.

One of my favorite holiday gifts is rosemary walnuts. Here’s how I make them:

I preheat the oven to 325 F, then pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil and an equal amount of butter on a large cookie sheet. Place in the oven until the butter melts. Then, I take a pound of shelled walnuts and scatter the nuts evenly in a single layer. I mix a teaspoon of paprika with 2 teaspoons of sea salt and about a tablespoon and a half of crushed dried rosemary. I sprinkle the salt and herb mixture over the nuts, shaking and stirring until they’re well coated. Bake them for 20 minutes or so. Serve warm or store in a cool dry container. If you reheat them for 5 minutes or so, watch them carefully because they go from browned to burned rather quickly.

Home-roasted nuts are so much tastier than store-bought. All the above ingredients can be kept on the shelf for a last-minute appetizer.

Last summer, I tried a couple of refreshing herbal lemon and limeades, courtesy of Adobe Farm’s Lindley Dixon at the Durango Farmer’s Market. My favorite was a rosemary limeade. The recipe is an attachment to an earlier feature about Dixon’s struggle to get local land on which to farm. A frozen sorbet can be made from either that recipe or a similar one that starts with a simple syrup infused with rosemary.

When I do an infusion, I do not pick the leaves off the stem. It’s easier to pull full sprigs, but either way, you strain the syrup. Three sprigs or about a quarter cup of rosemary should be added to 2 cups of sugar, and about 5 cups of water. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. After it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer for about 5 minutes. Let the syrup cool overnight, strain and blend 2 cups of syrup with 2 cups of dry white wine and 6 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice.

This mixture can be used several ways: as a refreshing lemonade wine cooler when poured over ice, or as a sorbet when frozen in an ice cream machine. You can even pour it into an old ice cube tray and once frozen, break up the ice crystals and blend before refreezing. The more times you break up the ice crystals and refreeze, the smoother the sorbet.

Year-round, rosemary can provide a wonderfully flavoredparty food. It’s easily grown and one of the most versatile herbs in the garden.

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