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‘Cooking with Herbs’ full of tasty surprises

Book: “Cooking with Herbs: 50 Simple Recipes for Fresh Flavor”; 114 pages, $16.99, by Lynn Alley. Published by Andrews McMeel, 2013.

About the book: The book is divided into Soups and Salads, Main Dishes, Breads and Spreads, and Small Indulgences. There are also tips for growing and cooking with herbs. For soup, try Portuguese White Bean Soup with Cilantro, Coriander and Mint (Page 15). I’ve had my eye on Tabbouleh-Style Rice Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumber and Parsley-Mint Vinaigrette (P. 25); Walnut, Apple and Rosemary Loaf (P. 71); and Curry-Cilantro Cream Cheese Spread (P. 89). I’m also planning to cool off on a hot August day with Savory Tomato Sorbet with Oregano (P. 101).

In the author’s own words: “You will find a series of templates, or basic recipes, for each section in the book, with variations on a theme. In most cases, the first recipe in the section does not even include herbs in the ingredients. It is a blank slate, ripe for experiment. Use what you have. See what you like. By no means should you restrict yourself to the basic recipes or the variations. Be inspired by them to go out and create your own favorite recipes that you’ll go back to again and again.” — Lynn Alley

What we made:

Mediterranean Olive, Sun-Dried Tomato and Oregano Mac (P. 54)

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

¼ cup all-purpose flour

3 ½ cups whole milk

8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

1 cup grated fontina or Monterey Jack cheese


½ pound pasta, cooked al dente and drained

½ cup Mediterranean-style olives (black or green), halved

½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, sliced, or 1 cup canned diced tomatoes, well drained

1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh Greek oregano leaves

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and place a rack in the center.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, then whisk in the flour and continue to cook for about 2 minutes more, just until the flour and butter froth.

Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. The “slowly” part is important because it allows the sauce to thicken to the consistency of a very heavy cream. When the sauce coats the back of a spoon thickly, remove the saucepan from the heat and add the cheeses, whisking until they have been incorporated into the sauce. I like to leave a few small chunks of feta. Whisk in some salt.

In a large bowl, pour the sauce over the cooked pasta, then stir in the olives, tomatoes, oregano and rosemary. Taste and adjust the salt if necessary.

Spoon the mixture into a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. At this point, you can refrigerate the casserole overnight if you wish. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until heated throughout. If you refrigerated the casserole, you will need to heat it thoroughly, which may take 30 to 40 minutes.

Let rest for about 15 minutes before serving.

Our assessment: Most of my taste-testers were pleasantly surprised by the oregano and rosemary, but one refused to eat the rosemary because the leaves reminded him of blades of grass. As well, the olives were a bit of a controversy. For starters, not everyone likes olives and a few ate around them. Another person suggested dicing them because he thought that half an olive was “too powerful in a single bite.” Another thought the mac and cheese could use a little more salt – the recipe calls for unsalted butter. Picky comments, for sure, but overall this recipe was a big hit with the taste-testers. Two of them said they could eat the entire casserole. The dish was empty in no time.

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