There are many, they smell divine and they make traditional Italian dishes almost intoxicating. How do Italians use them? I’ve chosen three (basil, mint and rosemary) and to get a few creative ideas I turned to Christian Costardi, chef, and his brother Manuel from the restaurant Christian e Manuel, Hotel Cinzia, Vercelli. General rules: don’t use a knife or scissors to cut them up, but your hands. If you break them up and crush them between your fingers, they will release all their aromatic oils, which is what gives them their scent. Furthermore, it’s better not to cook with them. Since they’re fresh (green) they contain chlorophyll, which develops a bitter note with heat. “What we’re interested in is the scent, not the taste of the herbs. So add them at the end, when the dish is cooked.” Instead, dried ones must be rehydrated, which is done by cooking them.
One of the most popular herbs in Italy, it is part of our culture and memory.
RECIPE FOR BASIL CREAM OR PESTO
Our chef’s recipe doesn’t use garlic, which allows the basil to star and maintain its freshness. Put the basil leaves, olive oil, salt and pepper in a blender with a few ice cubes (this keeps the basil from turning brown and so the cream stays bright green). Blend. The result will be an excellent basil cream to add an aromatic touch to spaghetti with tomato sauce.
Gin and tonic with basil. Prepare the gin and tonic. Crush a basil leaf between your fingers and put it in the glass. This will immediately give the drink a special taste, evoking a vacation in the Mediterranean.
This herb isn’t used often, but it is enjoyable. Above all, it makes you feel like you’re out in the country, changing the features of even well-known dishes.
GARLIC, OIL AND MINT
Sometimes it takes just a gesture to reinvent a classic recipe. Like spaghetti with garlic, oil and chili pepper. When the pasta is done, toss it into a skillet with the sauce and crush some mint leaves over the top.
Fernet—a typical Italian bitter— with club soda, lemon juice, ice and two mint leaves. Rub one of the mint leaves around the rim of the glass and put the other in the drink. You’ll create a digestif—one of the properties of mint is that it aids the digestion—with a vintage taste.
It is part of Italian cooking but is used across Europe. Rosemary is used to flavor sauces, but when it’s cooked it oxidizes and becomes bitter. So even in the case of roasts, it should be added to the sauce at the end.
Boil a carrot for 7 minutes and bake it in the oven at 285°F. Then sauté it in butter, split it in half lengthwise and add chopped raw rosemary. This will give it great aromatic intensity.
A frozen Crodino. Crodino is a bittersweet non-alcoholic Italian drink that is usually enjoyed as an aperitif. Add crushed ice and then chopped rosemary, which will balance the flavor.