Autumn rhythms bring us back into order, back into shoes, and back into the kitchen. Now is the time for hearty, bone-warming dishes and hardy herbs to season them. But wait. Fall is also the season when time is scarce and energy is diverted to school and work and evening activities. What’s a cook to do? Break out the one-pot recipes.
In my house, fall is Dutch oven, oversized skillet, tagine, wok, and slow cooker time. It’s also the peak time for robust woody herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage and savory. And it brings bushels of sturdy root vegetables such as plantain, beets, carrots, potatoes and parsnips, along with bunches of kale, Swiss chard and Chinese cabbage into local markets. How to tame the fall harvest? Temper dense and delicious autumn ingredients in one-pot combinations that give maximum fulfillment and at the same time, are easy to fix.
Stocking the pantry for economical and rustic meals is as easy as a trip to the farmers’ market where the bounty is almost endless, and the last of the woody herbs is bunched and ready to dry. I recommend that you use dried lentils because they cook in under an hour. But if time is short, organic canned tomatoes and legumes (peas and beans) are nourishing staples for your kitchen cupboard.
Hardy Fall Herbs
The woody herbs – rosemary, sage, thyme, and winter savory – are ready to pick or purchase now because they like to linger in the garden for a long time after the first fingers of frost have zapped the tender plants. Use them in long-simmering dishes and add them part way through the cooking. Here’s a quick guide to the health benefits of these classic Mediterranean herbs.
ROSEMARY (Rosemarinus officinalis). Use sparingly because rosemary can overpower ingredients and its flavour does not dissipate with long slow cooking. Rosemary brightens roasted potatoes and other vegetables. Use thick, woody rosemary stems as kabob skewers and strew rosemary over the coals for grilling foods.
Health Benefits: Rosemary is a powerful antioxidant and its carnosic acid can protect the brain from stroke and neuro-degeneration that comes from toxins and free radicals. Rosemary extract inactivates excess estrogen, making it an effective estrogen blocker, helping to prevent breast cancer.
SAGE (Salvia officinalis). This herb was traditionally used with poultry, pork, goose and duck, perhaps due to its ability to aid digestion of these fatty meats. Most commonly found in poultry stuffing, it also combines well with thyme, oregano, and parsley for Mediterranean dishes as well as pasta and rice.
Health Benefits: Like other herbs in the Lamiaceae family, sage has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and is a memory enhancer. Fresh sage makes a bitter digestive stimulant for oily or fatty foods and its antiseptic qualities make it an ideal gargle or mouthwash. Sage tea soothes a sore throat.
THYME (Thymus). Thyme blends well with other Mediterranean herbs and is found in bouquet garni herb blend; used in soups, stews, stir-fry and slow cooking dishes. Use it to flavour creams and custards as well as egg dishes; the lemon and spice varieties blend well in tea herbs and are used in jelly. Thyme is good with grilled vegetables, potatoes, cheese dishes and some meats.
Health Benefits: Thymol and carvacrol, key constituents of thyme essential oil, have powerful anti-oxidant and antimicrobial properties and can reduce bacterial resistance to common drugs; they are an effective fungicide with strong antimutagenic qualities. Long used for chest and respiratory problems including coughs, bronchitis, and chest congestion, combine it with sage and oregano, or hyssop, in cough syrup and tea.
WINTER SAVORY (Satureja montana). Savory has traditionally been teamed with legumes and beans because it is said to relieve bloating and flatulence. Both winter and summer savory are used in long-simmering dishes, but because it is stronger and woodier, winter savory is more often used in meat stews. Both stand up to cabbage, onions, and root vegetables as well as whole grains like wheat berries or barley.
Health Benefits: Summer savory is the species thought to have the strongest medicinal benefit, although winter savory is also used medicinally. Rub bruised fresh leaves on bee stings to alleviate the pain; drink tea before meals as