Ingredient: Rosemary

Don’t forget this herb in the kitchen.

Someone once said: “As rosemary is to the spirit, so lavender is to the soul.” Take a whiff of rosemary and you’ll learn why – this spirited herb’s piney scent is invigorating and fresh. Recent research from the University of Northumbria at Newcastle, England, lends credence to the theory that compelled ancient Greeks to wear rosemary in their hair when taking tests: The smell alone is enough to jumpstart memory and improve cognition.

It looks like a sprig from an evergreen tree, but rosemary – or Rosmarinus officinalis, if you want to get technical – is more closely related to aromatics like mint and basil. Its title “dew of the sea” – derived from the latin ros (dew) and marinus (sea) – is suggestive of its preference for more temperate climates than our own; although it’s hardy, it won’t survive under a metre of snow.

Winter retreat

If you want fresh rosemary in the colder months, there’s a simple solution. Anita McDonald, manager at Kuhlmann’s Greenhouse Garden Market, suggests planting a cutting to raise into a fragrant houseplant. “It can be wintered inside the house without a problem,” she explains, “but it needs to be in the sunniest location you have.” Keep it in a small pot and be sure not to overwater it. Occasionally pinch off the new growth and your spice rack will always be full. “Some people keep it in the house just for the smell,” says McDonald.

Superb herb

Even novice cooks are familiar with rosemary’s role in dishes like pot roasts, short ribs and veal osso buco; it only takes a small amount to enhance the natural flavours of the meat. The story doesn’t end there, though. Adrian Solomon, manager and sommelier at Violino Ristorante Italiano, sees rosemary as a culinary pocket knife. “You can use it almost anywhere,” he says, from potatoes and pizza to tea and lemonade. Violino even experimented with rosemary-flavoured desserts – among them a white chocolate and rosemary mousse – to somewhat mixed reactions.

“Our most successful thing is the herb-infused olive oil,” says Solomon, which is served with bread as a starter, as well as in pastas and salads. In combination with garlic and thyme, the rosemary lends its flavour and aroma to the oil; the result is a potent elixir that elevates even simple dishes.

“There’s a lot of room to play with rosemary, but you have to play it right,” says Solomon. “It’s a powerful ingredient; it has the power to ruin a dish or make it great.”

Recipe

Olive Rosemary Bread

Courtesy of Adrian Solomon, Violino Ristorante Italiano

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups warm water

2 tsp dried yeast

2 tsp caster sugar

3 1/2 tbsp olive oil

3 cups plain flour

2 tsp sea salt flakes

1 1/2 tbsp fresh rosemary

20 pitted Kalamata olives

Method:

1. Combine water, yeast, sugar and 2 tbsp oil in a small bowl. Set aside in a warm spot for five minutes.

2. Place flour and 1 tsp sea salt in a bowl. Make a well and pour in yeast mixture. Combine first with a wooden spoon, then with your hands. Place dough on floured surface; knead for 10 minutes. Place in greased bowl; cover with plastic wrap. Set aside until doubled in size.

3. Preheat oven to 400F. Brush a 20x30cm pan with 2 tsp of oil. Punch down centre of dough. Knead for two minutes.

4. Press dough into pan. Cover with damp cloth; set aside for 20 minutes. Press dimples into the dough. Brush with oil and sprinkle with rosemary and salt. Press olives into dough.

5. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.

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