Cooking an Italian meal doesn't require a trip to Italy or cooking lessons. Using the correct herbs and spices to bring a little Italy to your table.
Herbs and spices give an Italian flavour to such dishes as lasagne, spaghetti and pizza. While many herbs and spices have a place in Italian cooking, the big guns in the Italian cook's arsenal are oregano, basil, thyme, sage, rosemary and marjoram. Stock your pantry with these herbs and spices for an Italian experience.
Oregano translates into "joy of the mountain," fitting as this popular herb grows in Italy and most of the Mediterranean. Pizza, meatballs and spaghetti sauce will benefit from this leafy herb. Use oregano in soups and eggs as well. The Mexican variety of oregano offers a stronger flavour. Oregano adds vitamins A and K to your diet, in addition to magnesium, calcium and iron. In addition to its nutritional value, the volatile oils in oregano have antibacterial and antioxidant properties. A little oregano goes a long way with health--oregano contains more antioxidants than apples or blueberries.
Italian pesto sauce calls for basil, a leafy herb grown in Italy, particularly in the Genovese region. Basil goes well in any tomato-based recipe. Besides flavouring, basil provides vitamins A, C and K in addition to some minerals. Try basil in your next homemade spaghetti sauce or a bean or pasta salad. Add basil toward the end of your recipe's cooking time for the best flavour.
Another Mediterranean herb, thyme, complements risotto and other pasta recipes. Thyme adds vitamin K, calcium, magnesium and iron to your diet as well as providing dietary fibre. Like oregano, basil makes a nice flavouring with eggs. Thyme holds up well over a long cooking time, making it an excellent flavouring for soup. Sprinkle some on homemade pizza.
Sage has been in use since ancient times, its healing properties valued by both the Greeks and Romans. As with most Italian spices, sage makes a good choice for flavouring tomato dishes. Italian saltimbocca features sage as the leading spice. Use sage for flavouring meats and salads, as well as when preparing polenta. Too much sage can overpower your dish, so use a light touch when adding this Italian spice.
Commonly used in Italian focaccia bread, rosemary is also used to flavour meats. This Mediterranean herb also grows in the United States. Rosemary provides iron, calcium and dietary fibre. Rosemary can team up with garlic--use it in meats, pasta sauces and salads. Of course, rosemary works well with tomatoes. Try it in your lasagne sauce. Cooking does not diminish rosemary's flavour, so use it sparingly to avoid over-spicing your dish.
Marjoram flavours Italian sausage as well as pizza. Add to stews, soups and salads. This spice can also be used in lasagne and spaghetti recipes. Use fresh marjoram when cooking and add it later in the cooking process to preserve its taste.