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Grow your own — fresh herbs, that is, to really spice up your dishes

Make your Caprese salad with homegrown basil.
Make your Caprese salad with homegrown basil. Special to the Sun Herald

If you’re a real foodie, you should have an herb garden, even if it is nothing more than a few pots on the front porch.

Many herbs are easy to grow, but if you don’t have a green thumb, they not terribly expensive at the grocery store.

Dried herbs work just fine, but there is an extra punch to herbs you have just pinched off the plant. Rosemary and bay are perennials, plant them in full sun and water only when they are very dry.

Basil, thyme, mint and cilantro can be planted in pots out on the front porch.

Just don’t over harvest, and take only the newly sprouted leaves, not the larger, established leaves.

When you use fresh herbs, remember to add them toward the end of the cooking process. Fresh herbs tend to disappear if overcooked. The opposite is true of dried herbs, add them early so they have time to bloom.

Most dried herbs have a shelf life of six months or so (I am sure I have a handful that I should toss), but if you just have to use the old stuff, toss them around a dry pan over medium heat for a bit, just don’t burn them.

Fresh basil can be turned into pesto with the addition of garlic, pine nuts, coarse salt, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and pecorino cheese. Just add olive oil in the processor and pulse.

You can also infuse olive oil with fresh herbs, rosemary, bay and black pepper corns is one of my favorites, just avoid using garlic, that can lead to complications.

One of my favorite uses of basil is in a Caprese salad. It means, of course, salad of Capri (Insalata Caprese), so we know it has Italian roots, and if you just happen to notice, it also has the red, green and white colors of the Italian flag.

It is a simple combination of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and olive oil.

Give fresh herbs a try, I think you will like the results.

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