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Herbs & garlic

Not-so-secret ingredients... herbs and garlic
Not-so-secret ingredients... herbs and garlic

Transform a meal with sauces and dips

The ultimate flavours to grow – garlic and herbs, especially parsley, chives and rocket – are very easy. It’s difficult to start a savoury dish without a Tuscan odori once you know how to make one.

What do you do when you have a glut, like just before parsley or rocket flowers? Treat yourself by making sauces and dips.

Storing, roasting and freezing a garlic glut

Garlic cloves in oil ready to be roasted and frozen

Whole garlic bulbs will keep for several months at cool room temperature in a dry, dark place with good air circulation. A wire-mesh basket or beneath an overturned clay pot is ideal, as is keeping bulbs in a paper bag, egg carton, or mesh bag. Don’t refrigerate or store in plastic.

If you have bulbs left in the new year, and they’re starting to sprout, peel the cloves, toss them whole in a roasting tin in plenty of olive oil. Roast in a medium oven for 15-20 minutes, or until they lose their firmness.

Let them cool, lift out with a slotted spoon and place on a baking tray and freeze, then store in a freezer bag.

This should keep you going until the next crop, and it’s especially useful for hardnecks.

Tuscan odori

Odori ingredients – and some tomatoes

Can’t cook? Start savoury dishes with odori. It’s a Tuscan staple of onion, carrot, parsley, garlic, and celery, which forms the basis of sauces, stews, and soups in that part of Italy.

The flavours blend perfectly to enhance whatever you choose to put in your pot next.

  • 1 onion (or equivalent weight of spring onions)
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1 handful of flat-leaved parsley
  • 1-3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Finely chop the carrot, celery, parsley, and onion, crush the garlic.

Fry all ingredients with the oil in a pan over a medium heat until soft.

After this, add your meat to brown, then any tomatoes and other seasonings. Cook slowly over a very low heat until your sauce is concentrated and thick.

Rocket pesto – four variations

Large bag of wild rocket (and bought pine kernels)

I always fail miserably with basil, as it appears to be an aphid magnet. However, rocket is far easier and gives a punchy, peppery pasta or meat sauce. Here are four versions on a theme:

  • 60g wild rocket
  • 2tbsp toasted pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup chopped chives
  • Juice of 1 lemon, plus wedges to serve
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil

Place rocket, pine nuts, chives and lemon juice in a small food processor and whiz to combine. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream until you get a coarse pesto. Season to taste.

  • 600g wild rocket
  • 150g ground almonds
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 220g Parmesan

Blend the rocket, garlic, ground almonds and grated Parmesan in a blender.

Rocket growing in used tomato bags

While blending, dribble the olive oil in until the desired consistency is reached. Store in a sterilised jar in the fridge.

  • 2 large bunches of rocket, minus stems
  • 65g toasted pine nuts
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 4tbsp olive oil
  • 2-4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 50g+ grated Parmesan, (add to taste)
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Toast the pine nuts in a hot dry pan.

Put all of the pesto ingredients into a food processor. Blitz until blended and thick.

Taste and adjust the seasoning, and add Parmesan and balsamic vinegar.

  • 60g wild rocket
  • 2tbsp toasted pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup chopped chives
  • Juice of 1 lemon, plus wedges to serve
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil

Place rocket, pine nuts, chives and lemon juice in a small food processor and whiz to combine. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream until you get a coarse pesto. Season to taste.

Aubergine and garlic dip

The finished product, ready to store
  • 1 aubergine
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Handful of fresh flat-leaved parsley
  • 2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon harissa paste (optional)
  • Few drops extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Few drops lemon juice

Cut the aubergine in half and steam it in its skin until soft.

Put the cooked aubergine (with skin), the parsley, and remaining ingredients into a blender and blitz until a smooth paste. Refrigerate for a few hours before serving.

Works well with breadsticks or Parmesan cheese thins, or as a base for a pasta sauce. Adding chopped sun-dried tomatoes is a nice alternative.

Smoked feta, courgette and garlic dip

Courgette Parador
Courgette Parador

Another attempt to disguise courgettes. Please don’t eat this if you’re going out on a date.

  • 6 medium courgettes
  • 2-3oz (50-75g) smoked feta cheese (or plain)
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • Juice half lemon (or equivalent bottled)
  • Tablespoon or two of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, depending on your taste
  • Fresh parsley to garnish

Put courgettes in a non-stick bowl and roast them in the oven on a medium heat until tender (about 40 minutes).

Let them cool overnight in the fridge, then combine with feta, lemon, seasoning, and oil in food processor.

Check seasoning and add one clove of garlic at a time (don’t overdo it. I did – it ruined a nice dip). Pour into a bowl, and garnish with fresh parsley.

Gremolata (parsley sauce)


This is the traditional accompaniment to Milanese Osso Bucco, is classically made from lemon zest, garlic, and parsley. Here are two of many regional variations:

Classic Gremolata

  • 2 tbsp minced flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated lemon zest
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

Mix ingredients together in a small bowl with a fork and serve.

Gremolata with anchovies

  • Large bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 4 anchovies, crushed into a paste
  • Tablespoon lemon juice
  • Olive oil, to bind together
  • 2 oz (or more if you like) Parmesan or other Italian hard cheese, grated

Combine all the prepared ingredients and chill until needed.

Simple chive butter

Chives in full flower – they are edible too

Chives are often used in butter and this one is wonderful to make garlic bread with, or used on new potatoes.

  • 8oz (200g) butter, softened
  • 2 small cloves garlic, minced, or more to taste
  • 3 tbsp chopped chives

Cream ingredients together in a bowl, cover and store in the refrigerator for three hours before use. Will keep in the fridge for several days. It freezes too but split it up into manageable portions first.

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.