Herbs: Culinary Magic   

It's a little like fairy dust. Sprinkle some fresh herbs on an ordinary dish and --- presto! --- you have an extraordinary dish.

Home cooks are discovering what professional chefs have known for ages. Fresh herbs can lift a dish to new heights. 

The next time a recipe includes herbs, use fresh ones. You'll notice the difference. There will be depth and fullness in every mouthful; the aroma will be unforgettable; and the visual presentation will tell everyone "this is special." 

There's just one simple rule. Add them at the end - just before the dish is finished cooking. Otherwise, the herbs will become bitter. 

Supermarkets carry fresh herbs in the produce section. They come in small quantities and are typically packaged in a plastic container that makes them easier to ship. What herbs you don't use can be stored by standing them in a glass of water inside the refrigerator and covering them with a small plastic sandwich bag or plastic wrap. 

Herbs are also incredibly easy to grow. All they ask for is some sunshine, a little water and an occasional sprinkling of fertilizer. Even if you think you can't grow anything, you can grow herbs. 

One of the beauties of herbs is that you don't need a lot of space. They're happy in your backyard, but they're just as happy on a balcony, a patio or a window box. 

Produce stands and farmers' markets sell potted herbs. If you live in a place that experiences "winter weather," you'll start to see them beginning in mid-spring. One plant will cost the same as one container of cut herbs from the supermarket --- but it will last a lot longer. 

Start your garden with the herbs that you use the most: Italian flat leaf parsley, basil, thyme and oregano (or, for a slightly more delicate taste, try marjoram). Have more room? Try rosemary or chives too. Parsley is a biennial, basil is an annual and the others are perennials. 

Once you have your own herb garden, you'll see how much fun it is to reach over and snip a few stems as you cook. There's an extra sense of satisfaction. Not only have you cooked, but you grew part of it! 

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, edited by Claire Kowalchik and William H. Hylton, and The Complete Book of Herbs by Lesley Bremness are excellent sources of information on cultivating, growing and using herbs. Bremness also provides extensive info on planning and planting a herb garden.

Happy gardening and Bon App