2018-09-13 / From The Garden

Herbs at Their Peak!

By Cynthia Gibson

Brandywine tomato Brandywine tomato While walking through my herb garden this morning, I found that the strongest, greenest and least bleached by the sun were rosemary, mint, and Greek oregano. This trio of pungent herbs can have such an impact on any dish you prepare, be it sweet or savory.

Oregano is in flower, and if you pinch them back, within the week they will produce yet one more spurt of new leaves. The older leaves on the plant, however, are ready for harvest and drying. As the leaves dry, as with any herb, their pungency doubles, so remember to cut back on the amount of herbs you use in your recipes, if using them dried.

The best oregano to grow is Greek oregano. Greece is the home of oregano. It is the most pungent of the three herbs I mention above, and when dried lasts the longest and is brilliant in homemade spaghetti or pizza sauce, or sprinkled over lamb chops or cod.

“Oregano” comes from the Greek words oros, for mountain, and ganos, for joy, meaning, “joy of the mountains,” where this wonderful herb grows like a weed.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Oregano works with so many dishes. But what makes Greek oregano special is that is does not become bitter when cooked. Other oreganos grown in Mediterranean regions, their common oreganos, are just not very good. Some are bitter, so the more of it used, the more bitter the dish becomes.

In fact, any pungent herb used to excess will become bitter and harsh.

One of the easiest dishes featuring oregano is the classic, “Tomatoes Provençal.” Summer means tomatoes and the end of summer means an excess of tomatoes, so this is the perfect recipe for late summer, early fall. Easy to make, it is almost as if you are eating pizza without the crust, but better!

Your kitchen should be filled with the fragrance of oregano. Tomatoes prepared in this fashion are so tasty and great this time of year. They disappear quickly, so you may want to make more. It is a great way for children to enjoy their vegetables, too!

Tomatoes Provençal also makes for a perfect main dish for a luncheon, with a glass of iced Oolong tea and a sprig of your fresh mint.

Tomatoes Provençal

Serves 6

6 medium sized tomatoes
1 cup fresh, dried, white dried
bread crumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped oregano
1 tbsp. dried oregano leaves
2 minced cloves garlic

1 tsp. sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
1 tbsp. olive oil
6 small sprigs rosemary, optional

Preheat oven to 350°.

Spray a baking dish with cooking oil or line a cookie sheet with tin foil and spray with cooking oil.

Slice the top and bottom of each tomato, and scoop out the seeds, place them in your baking dish or cookie sheet.

Mix the breadcrumbs with the fresh oregano, garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and olive oil. Stuff each tomato with the breadcrumb mixture.

Cover with foil and place the tomatoes in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the sides are a bit tender but not collapsing.

Pull the dish from the oven, sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top of each tomato and then sprinkle just a touch of dried oregano on each tomato. Slide the dish or sheet back into the oven, uncovered, for another 10 minutes or until the parmesan cheese is golden brown and aromatic.

Optional: A sprig or rosemary can also be added to the top of each tomato for flourish and extra flavor, after you sprinkle your Parmesan cheese.

Serve immediately.

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