Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Herb of the Year

Well, it's my herb of the year, simply because I've really come to appreciate chervil so much more in these last 12 months. It's not as if 'Herb of the Year' is any sort of official title. Chervil is just Herb of the Year here in Amateur Land.

The citation would read something along the lines of: "For services rendered making bland vegies such as zucchinis (courgettes) so much more interesting; for growing in those semi-shaded spots where hardly any other herbs grow; for looking pretty in pots; and for being easy to grow from seed." I hereby award chervil with this barely prestigious award. All the other herbs are jealous, of course. Basil is such a prima donna sometimes!

For this little blog posting I plan to celebrate this fine little herb, with a recipe at the end, of course. Here is a crop from last year, looking very nice in a glazed green bowl.

I have something else going in that nice green bowl, so to stop chervil getting a big head as a result of its recent HOTY award, I have consigned it to a humble terracotta bowl this time round. Last Saturday I sowed up a pot of chervil seeds (on the left), along with yet another batch of good old rocket seeds. By the way, Australian readers, that Italian 'Franchi' packet of chervil seeds contains about one zillion seeds and only costs $4.50 ordered online from The Italian Gardener, a seed shop based in Wollongong. These super-generous Italian seed packets are great value, so if you have several friends who'd like some seeds of all sorts of vegies and herbs, order one packet of each and there will be plenty for everyone. It's a shop well worth checking out (and, of course, this is not a paid commercial – I paid for my seeds).

This is what chervil seeds look like. Long, dark and thin.

I didn't really intent to sow them so thickly, but no harm done. The germination rate isn't 100%, and I'll just thin out the seedlings (with tweezers) in two or three weeks' time.

After scattering the seed I cover them with a fine layer of seed-raising mix (I know seed-raising mix isn't available in some countries, so any very fine, sandy potting mix is roughly the same thing). The layer of seed-raising mix is just barely enough to cover the seeds. Water in with a very fine, light spray of water, then leave the pot in a well-lit spot away from full sun. Germination takes about 10-14 days, depending on the weather.

The first leaves are long and fine, like the seeds, so it's the second and subsequent sets of leaves which start to look like chervil. Once it's growing well, I keep it happy with an organic liquid feed once a month. I use anything that has plenty of nitrogen in it (there are lots of those to choose from these days). Here in Australia, Nitrosol, Seafeed 3-in-1, and all the other fish emulsions fit that bill.

The foliage is a bit like a cross between parsley and coriander, although it's most like curly parsley which has been uncurled, if you know what I mean. The flavour is very mildly aniseedy. Some say that it's 'delicate' but I think that is almost synonymous with 'boring', so I'll stick with 'mildly aniseedy' thanks.

Just for the record, chervil does produce flowers at the end of its season (it's a short-lived herb, like parsley, coriander, basil, dill, etc). Each batch of chervil provides a pretty good supply of leaves for about three to four months on average. Then I sow another pot.

There are two great things about chervil worth concluding with. The first is that it's a food plant which does well in semi-shade. The full blast of Sydney's summer sun all day is too fierce for it. If I can, I grow it in spots which get lots of morning sun, but no afternoon sun.

The other great thing about chervil is its flavour, especially in our case the way it has made bland-ish vegies such as zucchinis (courgettes) and other watery squash-type vegies interesting. So, it's on with the recipe!

Zucchinis with chervil
Serve this as a vegetable side dish.

4 zucchinis (courgettes)
knob of butter
black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped chervil

1. Grate all four zucchinis using a cheese grater. Sprinkle with salt, mix together with a fork, and let the zucchinis shed some liquid with the salt for a while (eg, 20 minutes or half an hour).
2. Next, rinse the zucchini of the salt under running water, and let it drain off the excess water in a colander.
3. Heat a knob of butter over gentle heat in a saucepan, add the grated zucchini and let it slowly cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking. Don't add any more salt, but add as much or as little ground black pepper as you wish. It's hard to overcook the zucchini over gentle heat, so the timing isn't that important.
4. Just before serving, sprinkle the chervil over and mix through. Serve straight away.
The chervil becomes the star in this recipe, with the zucchini just the chorus.

Chervil of course has many other uses. It's great with egg dishes such as scrambled eggs. You can stir chopped chervil into a mayonnaise to serve beside all sorts of fish dishes. In fact you could sprinkle chopped chervil straight over Atlantic Salmon and you'll be glad you did so. It's also worth a try over steamed chat potatoes. And some chervil leaves added to a tossed green salad will have the foodies asking "what's that lovely herb?". And you can answer "Oh, that's the 2010 Herb of the Year, chervil".


Natti said...

Hi Jamie,
I just found your blog through my reader recommendations. Extremely nice and well written. Glad to know that folks abroad are also using terracotta pots frequently for their potting requirements. You posts are extremely informative. I really liked your post on the three year itch. I maintain a small balcony garden here in Bangalore, India. and i blog at ..... :)

Lanie said...

All chervil around the globe must be quite happy with the award! I am with you - it is a great herb...I have some seed so will plant some this afternoon! Again thanks for the inspiration.

Melinda said...

Great post Jamie! Always on the lookout for semi-shade happy edibles. I've never tried chervil so all the more reason to grow some.

Natti said...

Hi Jamie,
Are you a completely organic gardener or do you use chemical pesticides/fertilizers in your garden.

Jamie said...

I'm completely organic when it comes to anything which I will eat, but most of the non-edibles are grown in an organic way, relying on compost and manure to do the feeding.

However I do use slow-release fertilisers for a wide variety of potted ornamental plants (such as orchids), and these fertiliser aren't organic, but they are still excellent fertilisers.

As for sprays, there are several very good organic sprays on the market here in Australia now, so you can control pests without killing the beneficial insects or poisoning the environment.

life in a pink fibro said...

Thanks for the tip on both HOTY and the Italian seed guys. I confess I wouldn't know a chervil if I fell over one, it looks great and if it grows in semi-shade, I'm all for it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to buy some seeds...

robyn elliott said...

Now you have made me curious about Chervil. I havent grown it before and dont recognise the taste.

Chookie said...

I fell in love with chervil a few years ago. It is delicious in an omelette aux fines herbes and lovely as a garnish to chicken soup. I wonder could chervil convert my zucchini-haters? Thank you for the informative post!

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