Sunday, November 15, 2009

Rosemary in winter

The first three years that I lived at our house, I planted rosemary directly into the herb bed in my garden, treating it as an annual. Every fall, I would clip off thick branches and freeze them, to be used slowly over the course of the winter. I always hoped that somehow my plant would defy all hardiness predictions and survive the Chicago winter. Inevitably, I would be back at the nursery buying another pot in the spring. I still frown in frustration when I read of folks in zone 5 creating "shrubs" of rosemary -- either they mulch more effectively than I do, or have found a hardier strain.

This summer, I rescued a nice fake "terracotta" pot from a neighbor's trash pile and decided that a potted rosemary plant would suit it best. I was able to balance the pot on some old cinder blocks in the hottest, sunniest corner of my little backyard garden. This spot is smack up against the back wall of my house, so it receives the reflected light and heat from the light grey siding. The plant grew much better under these conditions than it ever did in my actual herb bed. I suspect it also helped that it was far from the reach of my hose and watering can, and thus exposed to near-rock-garden environmental conditions. And I mean rock garden: only my collection of semper vivum grew there before.

At the end of the summer season, I brought the rosemary indoors, and gave it my one area of prime "sunny window" real estate (the other windows in my house have only partial sun throughout the day). It has been doing well, but I must curb my usual houseplant watering practices. I put a shallow dish of hens and chicks beside the rosemary to remind me that I am going for Mediterranean conditions, not the moist tropical care that my other houseplants crave. We'll see if it survives the winter -- hopefully come May I can place it back in its sunny outdoor spot. If it doesn't survive, oh well! I'll just buy my usual plant at the nursery, and long for the day when I can move to a higher zone.

One must be careful when cooking with rosemary -- too much, and the dish suffers from an intense piney-ness that can bring to mind soap more than food. I infuse my sauces with a branch (no need to chop) and then fish it out prior to serving. And in the garnish department, a sparkling holiday cocktail of limoncello and soda looks rather jaunty when decorated with a branch of rosemary impaling a lemon twist. My current favorite recipe is homemade rosemary and olive oil crackers: one taste of these, and you'll never again shell out four bucks for the Trader Joe's version. The recipe is adapted from Karen Solomon's recent book Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It. She gives instructions for many fancy variations on the cracker, but simple squares, liberally topped with salt, are easy and delicious with red wine. Watch the baking here. You want to skirt as close to well-browned as you can before tipping over into burned. This is no time for pale, delicate pastry. The crunch and carmelization suit the aggressive rosemary flavor.

Rosemary Olive Oil Crackers

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of sugar
pinch of black pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary
1 egg
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup water
More salt for sprinkling

1. Combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times. Whisk together the wet ingredients and pour into the food processor, only enough to develop a single ball of dough (add a bit more water if needed).

2. Turn the dough onto a big sheet of plastic wrap and pat into a large flat rectangle. Cover with more plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or so. Preheat the oven to 375.

3. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface. Roll as thin as you can manage, usually 1/8 inch. Prick all over with the tines of a fork. Sprinkle with more salt, and roll a few times to embed. Cut into squares (pizza roller works best).

4. Transfer squares to oiled and floured (or parchment lined) baking sheets bake for about 10 minutes, but watch carefully. Once well-browned on all edges, remove to a cooling rack. I often end up removing some a minute or two before others, due to uneven rolling and weird oven microclimates. Do not underbake.

1 comment:

  1. Just gone through your blog on rosemary in winter and found it to be awesome. It was nice going through your blog. Keep up the good work.