Linguine with squid, brussels sprouts and thyme. Photo: William Meppem. Food preparation: Breesa Swann. Styling: Hannah Meppem
We tend to approach herbs a bit like a brass band, jumbled and full of noise but usually enjoyably in tune. French cuisine ties groups of herbs together in a bouquet garni, while Vietnamese salads usually include five or six fragrant herbs. We grow them by cramming all and sundry together in herb pots. Even Simon and Garfunkel couldn't limit themselves to one.
There's usually very little occasion for a single herb to really express itself, but it's when they're out on their own that herbs can really shine. Think of the clear flavour of Thai beef with chilli and basil, or the sharp bite of a gremolata made just with parsley, garlic and lemon rind.
It makes good financial sense, too. Who wants to fork out for five different herbs, only to use a tiny amount of each while the rest go limp at the bottom of the crisper? Here are a couple of recipes where just one herb can go a very long way.
Chocolate puddings with basil cream. Photo: William Meppem. Food preparation: Breesa Swann. Styling: Hannah Meppem
Linguine with squid, brussels sprouts and thyme
The subtle sweetness of herbs such as thyme and tarragon are a great match with seafood and chicken alike. This squid pasta has flavours that are reminiscent of a roast chicken dinner.
• 500g dried linguine
• 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• 150g bacon, cut into batons
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
• 250g brussels sprouts, trimmed and shredded
• 3 sprigs thyme
• salt and pepper, to season
• 300g squid tubes, opened out flat and sliced into thin strips no wider than the linguine
• freshly grated parmesan, to serve
Cook the linguine in a large pot of salted water according to the packet directions.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and add the bacon. Fry the bacon for a few minutes until starting to crisp, then add the garlic, brussels sprouts and thyme, seasoning with salt and pepper and frying for about 5 minutes until the sprouts are softened. Add the squid and toss for a few minutes until lightly cooked through.
Add the linguine to the pan with the other ingredients plus a splash of the pasta cooking water. Toss to combine and serve with freshly grated black pepper and a light sprinkling of parmesan.
Chocolate puddings with basil cream
Basil and chocolate are a surprisingly good combination. But this pudding is as much about matching the luxurious texture of the whipped cream to the gooey chocolate filling as it is about flavours.
• 235g dark chocolate, chopped
• 50g unsalted butter
• 100g caster sugar
• 3 eggs
• 2 tbsp plain flour
• 300ml pouring cream
• 2 tbsp caster sugar
• ¼ cup finely shredded basil leaves, plus extra for garnish
For the basil cream, place the cream, sugar and basil leaves in a heatproof bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 2 hours. Strain the cream through a fine sieve to remove the basil and then whip the cream to soft peaks and refrigerate until ready to use.
Heat your oven to 180ºC. For the puddings, grease four 1/2-cup ramekins. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl placed above a saucepan of simmering water, or by pulsing in the microwave for 30-second bursts, then allow to cool slightly. Cream the butter and sugar, then add the eggs, one at a time, until all combined. Whisk through the flour, then stir through the chocolate to form a smooth batter. Divide the batter between the ramekins and bake for 20 minutes until cooked on the outside but still soft in the centre. Serve warm with dollops of the cream and a few basil leaves scattered on top.
To keep herbs fresh, wash them well and wrap them in damp kitchen paper and keep them in the crisper in a press-seal bag. Change the paper every few days and you'll get an extra week or so out of almost any herb.