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What makes Italians Herb-ivorous?

The French and Italians swear by oregano, the Greek herb that is best complemented when partnered with tomatoes, garlic parsley and olive oil, writes Sanjeev Kapoor.

india Updated: Sep 21, 2009 20:14 IST

Inspiration can come from strange sources. Here we were watching the movie Ratatouille and I actually thought about making the Ratatouille (as a dish) more attractive for kids. Well, they can jolly well reject ‘baingan’ and peppers but if the whole package is neatly presented in a pita? This is the origin of the Ratatouille wrap in one of my latest books Wrap n Roll.

Oregano fan
In fact, what makes the baingan and pepper so different is the use of delicate herbs as oregano. I have been a great fan of oregano and prefer to buy it fresh.

It is a Greek herb and the word literally translated means ‘joy of the mountains!’ The French and the Italian thrive on this herb and use it the most in tomato-based dishes, one of them being the pizza and oregano is now fondly called the pizza herb too. So where was I?

When you buy fresh oregano (though the packaged dried ones are available in plenty now!) strip the leaves off the stem and discard the stem. But in a bouquet garni, the stem is needed as oregano will be tied up with other herbs.

Follow the flavour
In the kitchen, oregano needs a diligent following. It can become a bit bitter and overwhelmingly strong if you use too much. Well, how do you decide how much is too much? Start with a few pinches (if dried) and a few leaves (if fresh) and as the food cooks, taste as you go along. Dried oregano should be crushed in your palm before it is added as the essential oils need to be released.

Good marriages
Oregano is lonely on its own. Complementary partners are garlic, onion, thyme, basil, parsely and olive oil! And when we talk about all these, the talk comes full circle to pizzas and pasta! Let us stop at the salad bowl that too does well with oregano especially when you take some pasta, pistachios, snow peas, tomatoes, baby spinach, parmesan cheese shavings dressed up with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dried oregano, salt and pepper. One of our favourite one dish meal is a chunky pasta stew that uses fusilli with chilli flavoured olive oil, loads of garlic, baby onions, corn kernels, tomatoes, carrot, beans, cauliflower. Add cream and cheese and then pep up the whole dish with salt, pepper, basil and oregano!

The writer is a master chef, author & television host.

Reach him on enquiry@sanjeevkapoor.com