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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Herbs and spices and crostini- oh my!!

Herbs and spices have been used throughout history by many civilizations and remain one of the most ancient and fundamental aspects of cooking. The Chinese were the first to use herbs and spices in cooking and are well known for their medicinal knowledge of herbs. Throughout history, spices have been thought of as valuable trading goods. During the nineteenth century when European trade was at its peak, cloves sold for $18 a pound, and pepper was so valued it was sold by the peppercorn. Having an herb garden was commonplace in early Colonial America, but unfortunately now that is no longer a necessity.Herbs and spices often come hand-in-hand, but they are not the same thing. While herbs are the leaves of the plant (often dried), spices are the more aromatic parts of the plant such as buds or roots. In order to harvest herbs, it is important to understand the particular herb you are dealing with. For example, leafy herbs should be carefully picked when ripe and you should never take more than 10 percent of the growth at a time. These types of herbs should be pruned carefully and you should avoid over-pruning the plant. At the same time, if you are growing something such as garlic, you can pick that whole plant when you are ready to use it. It is best to pick the plant and use it when you know it is at its ripest, just like any other type of fruit or vegetable.If you want to store your herbs, you should always keep them in a cool, dry place, with a minimum amount of sunlight. In most cases a cupboard would be fine for storage. Drying your herbs is a good way to keep them longer for cooking. Some herbs, such as bay leaves, actually are most flavorful after they are dried. The method for drying bay leaves is to clean them with a pastry brush (no water), then lay them out on a warm dry surface, and in about a week they will be dried. They should be stored in an airtight, glass container. Other herbs can be dried just by tying them into bundles and hanging them. The only catch to this is that the room they are stored in should not be more than 86 degrees, because their oils will evaporate from the humidity. It is also not recommended that you dry your herbs in the kitchen. Generally, a more dry area of the house is better for this. Do not allow the herbs to dry for too long either, because then they tend to crumble if dried for too long. One other method that is quick is to dry your herbs in the microwave. After cleaning the herbs, dry them and spread them out between two paper towels. Then put them in the microwave for 2-2 ½ minutes and store the herbs in airtight containers.

(copyright 2005-2007 The Basic Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Liberati)
4 thick slices of bread (crusty Italian type)
2 ounces of fresh mozzarella cheese2 ounces tomato paste8 anchovy filletsOlive oilOreganoSalt and paper
Using an oil that has a thin spout, pour a light coating of olive oil on each slice of bread, then equally divide the tomato paste among the 4 slices of bread.Place 2 anchovy fillets on each slice of bread.Sprinkle with oregano and then add salt and pepper.

Place baking paper on a baking pan and coat it lightly with oil.Place each slice of bread on baking paper.Then bake for about 5 minutes at 400 degrees, until the cheese melts and becomes bubbly.
Serves four people
Ciao for now..
Maria Liberati

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