Popular Herbs for Italian Cooking

Part of the Italian Cooking For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Fresh herbs are used almost exclusively in Italian cooking. Why? They taste better than dried herbs. Fresh herbs have all their aromatic oils. The intensity of herbs vary, so when substituting, try to pick something with a similar punch, or be prepared to adjust the amount of herb. This chart lists the most important herbs used in Italian cooking:

Herb Italian Name Description
Basil Basilico Italy's best known herb, basil has a strong anise flavor. A must in pesto, basil is a natural with tomatoes. (Basil's sweetness works nicely with the acidity in the tomatoes.) Tarragon, which isn't widely used in Italy, has a similar anise flavor, and you can use it as a substitute. You can also use parsley in most recipes calling for basil.
Bay leaf Alloro Once sold only dried, this herb is increasingly available fresh as well. Dried leaves are often dropped into a pot of simmering beans or soup to impart their gentle aroma. You can use fresh leaves, which tend to be longer and thinner, in the same fashion.
Marjoram Maggiorana This herb is similar to oregano but milder in flavor. Popular in the Riviera, marjoram is good with meats and seafood.
Mint Menta You can find hundreds of kinds of mint. Some are mild and sweet; others spicy and hot. Mint is used more in southern Italy and has an intensity and freshness similar to basil, which is perhaps the best substitute.
Oregano Origano This herb has a potent aroma and flavor that predominates in much southern Italian cooking and is used commonly with tomatoes.
Parsley Prezzemolo This herb is the unheralded star of Italian cooking. Basil may get all the attention, but parsley is more widely used. Flat-leaf varieties have a stronger flavor than curly-leaf varieties. You can cook parsley with garlic and onions in olive oil to form the flavor base for many dishes.
Rosemary Rosmarino With rosemary's strong resinous (or pine) aroma and flavor, you must use it sparingly. The tough needles need time to soften, and you shouldn't add it to dishes that you don't cook. Rosemary is a natural with potatoes, chicken, lamb, and beef.
Sage Salvia Sage is especially popular in Tuscany and other parts of central and northern Italy. Sage is pungent with a musty mint taste and has an affinity for butter sauces, as well as pork and chicken.
Thyme Timo Diminutive thyme leaves pack a surprising punch. Many varieties have a lemony flavor. Thyme isn't as widely used in Italy as other herbs.
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Italian Cooking For Dummies Cheat Sheet

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