Often in cooking in Italy, you find simple ingredients make the dish. Simple combinations of herbs, as well as garlic and onion, can make whole dishes – or at least a reasonable base for them.
Three is a perfect number and often three ingredients make the base of a dish. For a ragu, or sugo as we call it in Florence, is called a soffritto, and made of carrot, red onion and celery.
Another of my favorite quick pasta sauces starts with aglio, olio e peperoncino; garlic, olive oil and chili. It can be used simply on pasta or as a base for your arrabbiata sauce or carriettiera, both with tomato sauce added. Try sprinkling pasta with breadcrumbs which have been sauteed in the spicy oil, poor man’s parmesan.
When roasting pork or making the famous porchetta, the herb mixture of choice is aglio, salvia and rosmarino; garlic, sage and rosemary. I call it my porchetta salt. It is so versatile in the kitchen and not just for pork. When I teach classes, I usually try to include this Tuscan herb blend and we first add some to a dish of olive oil and dip in bread. This always wins people over, so much flavor.
I worked with Dario Cecchini in Panzano in Chianti and he shared his recipe for Arrosto Fiorentino, where the herbs are added to a cup of extra virgin olive oil, then black pepper, chili pepper and some fennel pollen are added and the mixture is poured over hot roasted eye of round and left to marinade for 15 minutes. Then the meat is sliced and served in the marinade. Simple Tuscan magic in the kitchen.
This recipe can be used fresh or by adding more salt, leaving it to dry. I only use sea salt to make the salt blend as it is lower in sodium and higher in magnesium. By blending the herbs with salt, you actually use less salt in your cooking and add more flavor. It makes a wonderful gift.
The Tuscan kitchen and cuisine excels in simplicity. I like to use this salt on small cherry tomatoes, cut, sauteed and sprinkled with herbed salt, great as a pasta sauce or a side dish.
I use what I call the Italian food processor, the mezzaluna, a double handled knife which rocks on the cutting board. If you don’t have a mezzaluna, you can use a knife, but the mezzaluna is fun, safe and fast. I love the smell that comes while chopping, aroma therapy in the kitchen. Try some soon, you will also become addicted.
When I lightly salt the herbs to use fresh, I add to extra virgin olive oil and drizzle on grilled meats before serving. Beef, pork, chicken or salmon. It is great on everything, even popcorn.
Tuscan herb salt recipe
- 1/2 cup sage leaves (remove the stems)
- 1/2 cup rosemary needles (remove stems)
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced
- 1/2 cup fine sea salt
Place all the ingredients on a wooden cutting board and chop finely.
If you are planning on keeping the salt for later use, leave on the cutting board until dry and then put in a jar and keep closed.