Tag: recipes

The Best Italian Herb You Never Heard Of

The Best Italian Herb You Never Heard Of

Nepitella completes the trifecta of Italian herbs that are a must-have in any Tuscan kitchen. Some describe it as a cross between oregano and mint, but I believe it’s more like a cross between basil and mint. And here’s why:

A bunch of nepitella hanging to dry.
(Nepitella, drying out after being harvested.)

When I cook, I like to think about music. I often have music playing (and a glass of wine poured) but I’m not talking now about the music I’m listening to. Instead I like to think about bass notes and treble notes or low notes and high notes.

Different flavors elicit different types of notes. Example: salt would be a high note and black pepper would be a low note or bass note. When cooking a red sauce, I often strive to have the flavors balanced between high and low. And adding dried oregano pushes the sauce into the high-note territory and adding dried basil takes it down into the bass category.

Mookie the cat sniffs some nepitella
(Cats like the smell of nepitella. Maybe they think it’s catnip?)

Nepitella is definitely in the mint family. It has that high note of mint flavor but with a bass note added; not another high note. Therefore I believe nepitella is more like a combination of both basil and mint. But really, it’s in a class all its own.

When Should You Use Nepitella?

So what do I use it for? There are really only two things I use this herb for: mushrooms and artichokes. Whenever I use mushrooms or artichokes in a recipe, I sprinkle fresh (or in the winter, dried) nepitella on them. It is a perfect compliment.

(You can use fresh or dried nepitella but just like other herbs the dried is stronger because the flavors are more concentrated.)

Where Can You Get Nepitella?

My grandmother brought nepitella seeds back with her from Italy many years ago. She planted them in her garden in Boston and a few years later, nepitella was growing everywhere: in the cracks in the asphalt in her driveway and up against her house as well as in the cracks in the sidewalk around her house.

It is a hearty herb and a pleasant one. What it does is re-seed itself. The green leaves sprout light purple flowers that turn to seed and drop in the ground nearby. And in that way, it spreads itself.

Nepitella growing wild along a fence
(Nepitella spreads quickly and will grow just about anywhere including along this fence.)

I took a few plants from the cracks in her driveway and planted them in my backyard. And now this delightful herb grows wild around my home: just waiting for me to come pluck a handful whenever I’m cooking fried mushrooms or stuffed artichokes.

Surprisingly, nepitella is getting more popular in the States. A search on Google turned up a few articles and places on where you can order it online. Gourmet Magazine once featured a video on its site with an Italian chef explaining “why you’ve got to get this wild Italian herb into your kitchen.”  But then he went and added it to fried crabmeat. That’s a new one on me.

Try These Dishes Using Nepitella

Nepitella and Mushroom Spaghetti: This is a quick and easy meal you can make on a weeknight.

Closeup of spaghetti and mushrooms

 

Stuffed Artichokes: A classic Italian side dish that even the Three Stooges can make and eat.

(Photo courtesy of “Insomnia Cured Here” on Flickr)

 

Mushrooms Stuffed with Nepitella Pesto: A buttery and earthy flavor combination.

Green pesto in ramekin with stuffed mushrooms

Recipe Videos From Boston’s Best Chefs

This is one of my favorite recipes from the weekly Dorm Room Chef series I produced for the Boston Globe. (more…)

Meal Plan: Blending French, Italian, Old and New in Southern France

Meal Plan: Blending French, Italian, Old and New in Southern France

(Above: Nice is a fun city that does a great job of blending the old and the new.)

Nice is in Southern France, near the Italian border, and so the cuisine there is a mixture of Italian and French. On our first visit we ate well and were able to pick up some great recipes: some that blend both cuisines and some that take classics and make them new.

Aerial view of the beach in Nice
(The French Riviera in Nice is a great summer spot with many wonderful flavors to explore.)

Three of these recipes we got from our favorite restaurant there, La Zucca Magica: a vegetarian restaurant with dishes so rich, no one missed the meat. Unfortunately, that restaurant has closed but I still have very fond memories of one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

 

Man sitting on a bench overlooking the port in Nice.
(La Zucca Magica, aka the Magic Pumpkin, was located near the port.)

 


Meal Plan: Mostly Vegetarian

When we got back, we had several dinner parties, including one with this meal plan:

 

First course: Cantaloupe Gazpacho With Crispy Prosciutto. (Recreated from Le Comptoir in Nice)

A bowl of orange cantaloupe soup.

 

Second course: Tomato Stuffed With Pasta Salad. (From La Zucca Magica in Nice)

Tomato stuffed with pasta

 

Third course: Chard Stuffed with Risotto and Mozzarella. (From La Zucca Magica in Nice)

Stuffed swiss chard.

 

If you want to have a completely vegetarian dinner, you can either omit the prosciutto in the first course or you can serve this dish instead: Patata Ball in Tomato Sauce (just substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth in this recipe). (From La Zucca Magica in Nice)

potatoes in tomato sauce

 

And for dessert you could serve this tried-and-true classic that has been enjoyed in Provence for many generations: La Tourte De Blettes.(From a recipe card purchased in the market in St. Remy.)

A slice of pie
(La Tourte De Blettes translates to Swiss Chard Pie, but don’t let that fool you. It is sweet and can be served as both an entree and a dessert.)