Rousing Rosemary

Now in Season Winter 2016 Issue

Rousing Rosemary

By Terese Allen | Photos By Jim Klousia 0

Ask me what my most beloved dish or cuisine is, and I’ll hem and haw. (It’s like the proverbial question about one’s favorite child—who can choose?) But pose the same question about herbs, and my answer is immediate and definitive: My favorite is rosemary.

I own not one, not two, not three, but four potted rosemary plants. In summer, my small evergreen shrubs bask happily on our front stoop, but when winter lashes its icy whip, I keep them in an indoor, floor-heated porch with windows on three sides. A woody Mediterranean herb whose natural habitat hugs the sea, rosemary craves moist, warm air and tons of sun—the precise opposite of what our region’s infamous frozen tundra supplies. So I fuss over my rosemary babies, checking them often during this time of year. Is the soil too dry? Are they out of the draft? Do the leaves need spritzing?

The pampering pays off because, despite a predictable penchant for hot-weather crops like tomatoes and eggplants, rosemary really comes into its own in the northern Heartland kitchen, especially in winter. Its piney flavor accents and tempers roasts, sausages, eggs and other rich foods. It gives aromatic punctuation to mild-mannered comfort foods like mashed potatoes and fresh bread. All kinds of hearty veggies take to it with gusto—think Brussels sprouts, squash, dried beans.

One of the few fresh herbs that likes to be added to dishes early in the cooking process, rosemary is tailor-made for stews and braises (dried works well, too). And where would our holiday bird stuffing be without rosemary?

The herb complements so many cold-weather foods that it’s no wonder I need four pots of it. Despite its friendliness, however, there is one drawback: rosemary can be loud. Use too much, and it’s like biting into a Christmas tree. So go easy, starting with a little and then adding more if you like.

More ways with rosemary:

  • Gently heat small branches in olive oil to flavor it, or add minced rosemary to softened butter.
  • Add stems to simmering applesauce or pear butter.
  • Use woody rosemary stems as skewers.
  • Combine chopped rosemary with cheese and breadcrumbs for a gratin topping.
  • Flavor shortbread or butter cookies with it.
  • Run hot water over rosemary stems in the bathtub for an aromatic soak.

Try some of these rosemary-forward recipes, and we're sure it will become your new favorite herb, too.

Terese Allen has written scores of articles and books about Wisconsin’s food traditions and culinary culture, including the award-winning The Flavor of Wisconsin, The Flavor of Wisconsin for Kids, and Wisconsin Local Foods Journal. She is food editor for Organic Valley, president of the Culinary History Enthusiasts of Wisconsin (CHEW) and a longtime director of REAP Food Group, the cutting-edge food and sustainability organization based in Madison. She is hungry all the time.

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