5 essential ingredients for Italian cooking

Italian cuisine without herbs? Unthinkable! Find out here which five herbs you must always have in your kitchen for your “cucina italiana”.

What makes Italian cuisine so special are not just unusual ingredients, but good quality ones. The same goes for herbs. You need just five herbs to cook (almost) all Italian recipes - and to bring a delicious flavour to your dishes. If you can grow the herbs yourself, all the better. Otherwise, a good alternative is to buy them at your weekly farmer’s market. There, you’ll find particularly hardy, flavoursome potted herbs. Herbs are best used fresh or deep-frozen. Dried herbs should only be used in an emergency. With the right herbs, all your Italian dishes will become a culinary delight.

Basil is the royal herb

Basil (Italian: “basilico”) is THE herb used in Italian cooking. It is also known as the royal herb. No wonder: it “adds class” to many dishes, such as the antipasti classic caprese with fruity tomatoes, or a delicious, flavoursome pesto with fresh pasta. It also gives this gnocchi recipe an intense colour and its typical, mild basil taste. Tomato and basil often enter into a wonderful culinary liaison in Italian dishes. Basil is excellently suited to meat, fish and soups. Incidentally, basil also provides a fresh kick in lemonades or cocktails - particularly refreshing during the summer.

Rosemary - sea dew

The name “rosemary” (Italian: “rosmarino”) comes from the Latin “ros marinus”, or “sea dew”. The bushes grow abundantly on the Mediterranean coasts, where the early morning dew settles on the flowers and stems. Game dishes in particular gain a very special flavour with rosemary, but this evergreen herb is also wonderful with beef, pork and poultry recipes.

Thyme - the hotter, the temperature, the stronger the flavour

Thyme (Italian: “timo”) gives soups, sauces, broths and braised dishes a spicy-sweet taste. Of the over 100 types of thyme available, garden thyme is the most widely used. The herb is particularly good with hearty dishes using lamb, pork or beef. Thyme works particularly well with garlic and basil - for example in a fruity tomato sauce, which you can vary with thyme - or with pan-fried vegetables, with aubergine, courgettes or potatoes. Lemon thyme gives your fish dishes and seafood their summery freshness, for example - and thyme is an essential ingredient in this dip for mozzarella sticks. One interesting fact is that the herb only develops its intensive flavour at high temperatures, which is why it’s already added during the cooking process. Be careful when using dried thyme: it has a much stronger flavour than the fresh herb.

Oregano - the star of pizzas

In southern Italian cuisine in particular, oregano (Italian: “origano”) is widely used. It is an ingredient of many pizza sauces and is used to decorate many pizzas, such as pizza with anchovies. Oregano is often mixed into sausage. The flavour of oregano intensifies through drying - so be sure to use it sparingly. </ br> Before I forget, a close relative of the Italian favourite oregano is often used in German cooking: marjoram.

Sage is particularly flavoursome and easy to digest

Sage (Italian: “salvia”) tastes and smells bitter and aromatic. With more than 900 different types to choose from, it’s not at all easy to decide which one to plant in your own herb garden. The undisputed favourite in the kitchen is common sage, also known as “clary sage”. If you want something more exotic, you can try lemon, pineapple or marzipan sage. Sage is commonly used for meat dishes, and is an essential ingredient when preparing saltimbocca, for example. Sage also brings the right flavour to soups, barbecued fish or aromatic penne gorgonzola. If you need a lighter sage taste for your dish, use the young leaves on your plant; the older leaves are excellent to add more intense notes. Very simple and highly aromatic: sage tossed in butter in a classic pasta sauce – the perfect accompaniment to fresh gnocchi. Did you know, dishes with a high fat content are easier to digest when sage is used? This soothing property of sage was already known in ancient times.

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