There are several different types of herbs that can be used for cooking in general. Some of these herbs are also excellent choices for use in Italian cooking. Herbs can provide flavor and often have added health benefits, so it is always a good idea to consider adding herbs, no matter what Italian dish you may be preparing. Herbs are, in fact, an essential part of Italian cooking, with many recipes calling for herbs to be added in.
- The More Popular Herbs
- Other Herbs
- Bay Leaves
- Cooking with Fresh Herbs and Spices
- The Most Used Herbs and Spices in Italian Cooking
- The 5 Essential Italian Herbs
- Enjoy Authentic Italian Recipes from Basta Pasta
- Herbs create the famous aromas we all love about Italian food
- The herbs all have their own unique partners in the Italian cuisine. Read about these great marriages but also about the useful medicinal properties they have.
- Please share your thoughts about Italian herbs? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or share our post with your friends?
The More Popular Herbs
Some of the most popular herbs used in Italian cooking include rosemary, parsley, oregano, basil, bay leaves, thyme and sage. You can also add hot pepper and garlic to dishes. What is also great is that a person can grow many of these herbs quite easily which means you can use your own fresh herbs. Fresh herbs are always better to use than dry herbs, as you gain the most flavor and any health benefits from freshly added herbs.
Basil is a great herb to use in Italian cooking and it goes well when used along with thyme, garlic, lemon, rosemary and tomatoes. It is often used on zucchini, eggplant and pasta dishes. Rosemary is an herb with a strong flavor and fragrance that is most often used when flavoring grilled or roasted poultry and other meat. It is also very often added to roasted mushrooms and potatoes.
Thyme is often used in dishes that are prepared in the south of Italy. It is frequently added to flavor pasta sauces which contain eggplant and peppers. The thyme can also be included in dishes with roasted and grilled fish, such as bass. It can even be used with roasted potatoes and roasted tomatoes and is also added in stock for stews.
A commonly found herb in pizza, especially in southern regions of Italy, is oregano. It is also used with grilled fish and potatoes. Parsley is another herb that can be included to flavor seafood in Italian dishes. In fact, parsley can be used to add flavor and texture to a wide variety of dishes. It can be used in soups and in several vegetable dishes, such as where zucchini and eggplant are used.
Sage is important in Italian cooking. It can be added to flavor butter and is used in a famous Tuscan bean dish. Sage can be chosen for risotto and pasta and it also is commonly used with pork meats and sausages. Garlic can be added to dishes as well, but not in huge amounts. It is used in moderation to a variety of dishes to flesh out the flavor.
Bay leaves are commonly used to flavor meat and fish dishes. It can be added to stews and soups. The bay leaves are spicy and can be steamed with seafood, chicken or vegetables. You need to steam for a while so as to release the flavor and then remove the leaves before serving as the leaves themselves are hard to eat. Inclusion of these herbs can really add that extra flavor to your dishes.
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In the early years of ancient Rome, food was prepared simply, without much in terms of herbs and spices. During the Roman Empire, the cuisine had a makeover from simple preparations to strong flavors, influenced by use of herbs and spices. Recorded in De re coquinaria, a 1st century CE cookbook – known at the time as an apicius – recipes called for “heavy use of spices and herbs.” These days, Italian cuisine often calls for fresh herbs and spices, enhancing the flavor, color, and texture of the dishes.
Italian Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are used in dishes, historically, for their health benefits as well as to enhance the flavor of the dish. Below is an overview of common Italian herbs and spices – as well as what they add to a dish and our culinary experience.
Parsley (prezzemolo, in Italian), of the flat-leaf variety, is one of the most commonly used herbs in Italian cooking. Parsley is found commonly in seafood and vegetable sauces, and in most pasta dishes, sauces, and soups. It is appreciated in Italian cuisine for its complement to spicy dishes, and is used in bouquet garni – along with bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, and sage. Its health benefits include vitamins A, B, and C, as well as iron, iodine, and magnesium. Parsley is a great breath freshener – which is why it is commonly found paired with garlic!
Basil (basilico, in Italian) is another major herb in Italian cuisine, like parsley. Though it is most commonly linked with Italian cooking, it actually came to Europe by way of the spice trade from India. Basil brings freshness to any dish, and pairs extremely well with cheeses, tomatoes, garlic, and lemon. It is used in countless Italian dishes, perhaps most famously in the Caprese salad. Its antibacterial properties also bring health benefits to the table.
Bay leaves (alloro, in Italian) can be traced back to ancient Greek mythology as the laurel tree. The laurel tree grows abundantly in Italy and is used in the cuisine of diverse regions. This spicy leaf is often added to soups, sauces, and stews for a kick of well-rounded flavor. It is also used to flavor meat and seafood dishes, pickled with vegetables, and as one component of the bouquet garni. Bay leaves offer a source of vitamins A and C, as well as folic acid, potassium, calcium, and iron.
Sage (salvia, in Italian) is used internationally for its many healthy properties. It is used to clear out energy in certain rituals, and it is also a key element in Italian cuisine. Sage’s Italian name comes from the Latin root that means “health.” People have used sage for its anti-inflammatory properties, as well as its aid with digestion. Sage is used in Italian cooking with pasta dishes such as gnocchi and risotto, as well as roasted meats and in soups. Known as a “miracle herb,” sage is used in great quantity in Italian cuisine.
Rosemary (rosmarino, in Italian), like bay leaves, grow in abundance in Italy. A hardy plant, rosemary is known for its peppery, woody flavor. In Italian cuisine, rosemary is often used in roasted vegetable or meat preparations, as well as in bouquet garni to flavor stocks and stews. Rosemary also brings with it a long symbolic history, as a token of friendship and as a way to chase away bad dreams. Its health properties include iron, calcium, dietary fiber, and antioxidants.
Oregano (origano, in Italian) is ubiquitous in the United States and became popular in the States following WWI, when soldiers brought it back to America. Ironically, oregano is not as commonly used in Italian cooking as other herbs, such as parsley or basil. Oregano is more flavorful in its dried form and is used more commonly in southern Italian and Sicilian dishes. Health benefits of oregano include high amounts of Omega-3s, iron, manganese, and antioxidants. It is used as an essential oil for its antibacterial properties.
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Now that I’ve been out on my own learning how to cook for a couple of years, I’ve learned that spices really are absolutely essential for creating flavorful dishes. Spices are especially prevalent in Italian cooking, which I learned early on when I shadowed my mom making everything from meatballs to pizza. Aside from fresh produce and luscious olive oil, I would argue that Italian spices are the most important element of Italian cooking.
What’s taken a while for me to sort out, however, is which Italian spices to use in which dishes, and what combinations work best together. Luckily, I’ve done the research so that you don’t have to. Here are the top Italian spices and when to use them to make your food taste almost as good as Grandma’s.
Basil is the number one herb in Italian cuisine. Its fresh, bright flavor goes well with Italian staples like cheese, tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar to make Caprese salad. My personal favorite, however, is basil pesto.
Basil is used both fresh and dried. Fresh is most common in cold dishes or added after cooking, while dry is used to flavor things that will cook for a while, such as soups and sauces. Basil also has the added health benefit of being antibacterial.
Oregano is much better to use dried than fresh, since the pungent, spicy flavor comes out more after the herb has been dried. It’s traditionally used in southern Italian and Sicilian dishes. In everyday cooking, it works best in tomato-based pasta sauces.
Rosemary is an extremely easy herb to grow for yourself so that you can have it fresh in your cooking. In traditional Italian cooking, it’s often used when roasting meats and for adding peppery but floral flavor to stocks.
All you need to do is drop a sprig of fresh rosemary in at the beginning of the cooking process and it will lend your dish a peppery, woody flavor. I love using fresh rosemary whenever I make homemade focaccia.
Thyme is actually a member of the mint family and is used throughout the Mediterranean in a variety of dishes. Try adding it to vegetables, potatoes (such as this maple sweet potato dish), or meats before roasting.
The herb works well either fresh or dried, depending on what’s more convenient for you. The fresh version has a more pungent flavor. The lemony and minty natural flavor of thyme pairs exceptionally well with lemon, such as these lemon and thyme chicken thighs.
Prezzemolo, as parsley is called in Italian, is one of the most commonly used herbs in Italian cooking. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a pasta, sauce, or soup recipe without it.
Parsley comes in flat-leaf and curly-leaf varieties, but flat-leaf parsley is so much more common in Italian cooking that it is nicknamed Italian Parsley. Flat leaf has more robust taste for flavoring dishes as they cook, but curly leaf is better for fine chopping and garnishing.
Parsley is most often used to complement spicy elements because of its natural ability to brighten other flavors in any dish. As an added bonus, it has lots of vitamins and minerals.
Around the world, sage is used for its health properties, which include anti-inflammatory and digestion aid. It’s often used in rich pasta dishes like gnocchi, risotto, and ravioli. That’s because sage’s natural warm fragrance brightens up heavy dishes.
Recently, I’ve seen it most often paired with brown butter and butternut squash. Sage is undeniably better when it’s fresh than dried, especially when it’s lightly cooked in a butter sauce.
Although you’ll rarely actually eat a bay leaf (they’re pretty sharp and could hurt your throat), you’d be surprised to realize how many dishes feature bay. Dried bay leaves are often used to flavor soups, stocks, and stews along with braised meats and pickled vegetables. They add a complex spicy flavor to any dish.
Marjoram, although close to oregano, is more mild, floral, and woodsy. It’s used about equally in recipes fresh and dried, just make sure that you are adding what the recipe calls for. Dried herbs tend to be more potent than fresh in terms of flavor. It’s often found in salad dressing, marinade, and sauces.
In the food world, cooking is known as an art and not a science. As you grow more comfortable with using these spices in exact recipes, don’t hesitate to experiment on your own. You may just find a new, delicious combination that perfectly suits your taste buds.
Cooking with Fresh Herbs and Spices
A key element of any great recipe is fresh herbs and spices. Both are introduced to recipes to enhance flavor, texture and often color. In Italian cuisine, herbs and spices are just as vital as, say, a spaghetti sauce bib.
Each time you pluck a basil leaf from the potted plant in your windowsill or sprinkle rosemary on your roasted potatoes, you are participating in a tradition that goes back centuries. Herbs link us to the earth and history—both tangibly and metaphorically. Legends about herbs are woven throughout ancient mythology; literature abounds with references to them. Many of the most well-known aromatic herbs grow naturally and abundantly throughout the Italian countryside and are an integral part of its cuisine. These herbs—such as basil, rosemary, oregano, and sage—play an essential role in creating the unique flavors and mystique of Italian food. It’s virtually impossible for an Italian to think of cooking without the addition of their beloved herbs and spices.
Like an unhurried walk through the Italian countryside, it’s a joy to wander through – or skip around – the descriptions, legends, and uses of the various herbs and spices used most often in Italian kitchens. But first, just a brief note to clarify the difference between herbs and spices: Though both are used to add flavor and aroma to food, herbs are obtained from the leafy green parts of a plant; on the other hand, spices are derived from other parts of a plant, such as the seeds, berries, bark, root, fruit and flowers. Also, it is important to note that herbs are often used in larger quantities than spices, which are used more sparingly because of their potency.
Some of the most commonly used herbs and spices in Italian cuisine. Learn more:
The Most Used Herbs and Spices in Italian Cooking
Using a variety of spices that come from leaves, flowers, roots, bark or seeds is very common in virtually all Italian and Mediterranean cuisine.
They serve to enhance the flavor of each ingredient, steal the spotlight, accompany the dish or truly bring out its flavor.
While most often associate herbs like basil and oregano with Italian cuisine because they are commonly used for sauces, pastas and pizzas, in reality, Italian cooking there are many different herbal varieties and preparations used to make recipes or products.
In today’s post, we’ll look at some of the most common herbs, spices and seasonings in Italian cuisine. Take notes!
Basilico (basil): The warm, sweet and characteristic flavor of basil is one of the essentials of Italian cuisine. It’s the main ingredient in many pesto sauces, but also combines perfectly with other ingredients such as tomatoes.
Thymus (thyme): Thyme is one of garlic and lemon’s best friends and is often used in soups, stews, vinegars, etc.
Rosmarino (rosemary): Thanks to its powerful but sweet flavor and aroma, rosemary is frequently used with vegetables and in vinegars and breads, etc.
Aglio (garlic): Garlic is one of the main ingredients that is found in every Italian kitchen thanks to its versatility and use in sauces, dressing, garlic bread, and many other dishes.
Salvia (sage): Sage is widely used in dressings and meats, especially in the Tuscan white bean stew known as “fagioli all’uccelletto.”
Origano (oregano): Oregano is another Italian cuisine favorite and you’ve probably seen it used to accompany real Italian pizzas.
Pepe (pepper): The most common variety of pepper is pepe nero (black pepper), but some sauces require pepe bianco (white paper). It gives a kick of flavor and serves to enhance the taste of many recipes.
Zenzero (ginger): Ginger is a spice used in many recipes but especially used for making Christmas ginger-based shaped biscuits and breads called “pan di zenzero” or “panpepato.”
Curcuma (turmeric): Tumeric is the perfect ally for seasoning chicken. It is sometimes also used for curry and rice dishes.
Paprika: Paprika is widely used in meat and sauce dishes.
Peperoncino (hot pepper): Peperoncino is the go-to seasoning for adding an extra kick of spice to many dishes, including the famous pasta “all’arrabiata.”
Fionocchietto or selvatico finocchieto (fennel): Fennel is frequently used in dishes like carpaccio.
Erba cipollina (chives): As its name suggests, chives resemble onions but have a finer flavor. They are widely used in fish, tortillas and cold dishes.
Prezzemolo (parsley): Parsley gives a cool touch, so it is ideal for light summer dishes and fish sauces. It’s the perfect partner to garlic.
Of course, there are many more herbs that can be used either fresh or dried, but fresh herbs always have more flavor and aroma.
There are also many preparations made from different herbal combinations that are common in Mediterranean cuisine. One example of this is what is known as an Italian condiment made from basil, thyme, rosemary, marjoram and oregano. Sometimes sage or garlic is also added.
We can also find the well-known Tuscan herbs made from sage, rosemary and garlic. There are many varieties that may also feature black pepper, fennel seeds, bay leaves, and oregano, among others.
Herbs provides many nutritional values and are very healthy. They can also help to reduce salt intake without taking away from the dish’s flavor.
However, always remember: herbs only serve to accompany and improve the flavor, but should not be the protagonists in most dishes.
At Da Bruno restaurants, we use a wide selection of herbs and spices daily to enhance the flavor of our fresh ingredients.
They can be found in our sauces and dishes such as pil pil prawns, penne arrabbiatta, pesto and even our curry risotto. Come and try out our recipes to see how we take advantage of our selection of herbs!
The 5 Essential Italian Herbs
May 19, 2017
Fresh herbs add flavor and texture to every great Italian dish!
Italian cuisine is frequently enjoyed all around the world. There are all sorts of herbs in Italian cooking that make dishes taste so delicious. In addition to adding immense flavor to a meal, Italian herbs provide several health benefits.
Basil, a fan favorite, is commonly associated with Italian cuisine. It brings an unbelievable freshness to any Italian dish. It goes extremely well with garlic, cheeses, and tomato. Many will argue that basil is what makes a Caprese salad so delectable. It also has antibacterial properties which make it an extremely healthy option.
This hardy herb pairs well with different preparations of meats and roasted vegetables. It is known for having a woody flavor. It is grown in abundance in Italy. The health benefits include antioxidants, calcium, and dietary fiber.
This is one of the few herbs that is actually considered to be more flavorful when it is in its dried form. Surprisingly, it is actually not commonly used in Italian cuisine compared to other herbs. However, it still provides a ton of flavor to dishes. Oregano’s health benefits include antioxidants, iron, Omega-3s, and iron.
In addition to basil, parsley is one of the most commonly used herbs in Italian cuisine. It is often used in pasta dishes, vegetable and seafood sauces, soups, etc. It is a great complimentary herb because it used to tone down aggressive and spicy flavors. This is why it is frequently used with dishes that have garlic. Parsley is also great for your health because it has vitamins A, B, and C.
This herb has several benefits and therefore it is known as the “Miracle Herb”. It is frequently used for anti-inflammatory properties. It is also great for digestion. It can be found in Italian cooking in dishes like risotto, soups, and roasted meats.
Enjoy Authentic Italian Recipes from Basta Pasta
For over 12 years, Basta Pasta has been providing Marylanders with delicious Italian specials cooked from fresh, delicious, high-quality ingredients. Enjoy a taste of classic Italian food with spectacular pasta dishes, unlimited salad and breadsticks, and sumptuous fine Italian wines. To make a reservation at our Timonium location, contact us online or give us a call at (410) 308-0838. To make a reservation at our Fallston location, contact us online or give us a call at (410) 692-5200. To find out more about our menu, follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
Categories: Italian Cuisine | Tags: Basil, Basta Pasta, Italian herbs, and Rosemary This entry was posted on Friday, May 19th, 2017 at 5:27 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
Herbs create the famous aromas we all love about Italian food
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Posted on july 04, 2016 by Tuscookany Team
The herbs all have their own unique partners in the Italian cuisine. Read about these great marriages but also about the useful medicinal properties they have.
The Italian cuisine is largely constituted by its aromas, which in turn are made of classic combinations of herbs and spices. Can you really imagine a pizza without the pungent smell of oregano? Or basil? These are touches that often you don’t find in pizzas and other Italian dishes cooked abroad, but they are one of the essential differences that turn the food of the peninsula into a sensorial dreamland. And this is just one small thing herbs do for the Italians. In fact, the art of recognizing useful and edible herbs is ancient, dating back perhaps to prehistoric times. The Greeks and the Romans brought it to its apotheosis and doctors like Asclepius, Hippocrates and Galen turned this knowledge into one of their most powerful weapons against all kinds of diseases.
Throughout the centuries, this tradition has entered the Italian popular knowledge. As a consequence, the Italian cuisine has been increasingly enriched by curative aromas, which provide unique flavours and are the cornerstone of the longevity associated with the Mediterranean diet. Following the advice and wisdom of our wonderful chefs at Tuscookany – Cooking vacations in Tuscany , we now look at some of the most commonly used herbs in the Italian gastronomy, starting precisely from the famous pizza ally: the oregano.
Fresh and dried oregano taste quite differently. The fresh herb is delicate and blends in well with a salad. However, when the oregano dries up, its flavour multiplies, strengthening its stinging notes and becoming a great companion not only for pizzas but also for tomato-based red sauces. Sprinkle it on your mozzarella, trust me: it is amazing. And if its deliciousness is not enough, it also has antiseptic, analgesic, expectorant and digestive properties.
One of the most famous and beloved herbs of the Italian culinary landscape, basil is known as a protagonist in legendary recipes such as pizza, caprese and pesto. It is absolutely divine when combined with olive oil and garlic, and it is beyond this world when it meets tomatoes in every form, either fresh or cooked. The name comes from the Greek basilikohn, which means “royal”: a perfect label for a noble herb symbol of hospitality and love. Its antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties make it one of the healthiest herbs on the planet with plenty of nutrients that improve cardiovascular and digestive health, and protect the structures of cells and chromosomes. Its aroma is welcoming and fresh, with a hint of minty notes. In fact, basil and peppermint are related: did you know?
In Italy, when referring to something that is everywhere, or a person you find in all the places you go, it is said: it/he is like parsley. The reason is because this herb is an inevitable protagonist in almost all Italian recipes. There are sauces made exclusively of parsley, like the Gremola in Lombardy and the Tuscan green sauce. It is great with mushrooms and with all the trifolature, and you can add it raw on salads, fish and cheese. And this herb is a real medicine, a life-saver. It is able to promote iron absorption, it is diuretic, laxative and it fights against cellulite, improving the circulation and promoting a healthy digestion. Plus, it is rich in vitamins and can be used as a perfect detox potion.
This rustic plant can grow even on rocks and in dry areas, and it is not afraid of the cold. Consequently, it grows easily around the beautiful Italian peninsula. Try it to marinate meat and veggies. It is perfect with potatoes and other vegetables cooked in the oven and with the famous abbacchio of Lazio, and it is used in many regional recipes. It is both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and it is helpful to fight back against depression, because it is both a tonic and a stimulant. Italian grandmothers used to combine it with water to be used in the last rinse of their hair, giving it an awesome sparkle.
It is so good it is actually sacred: the ancient Greeks used thyme as incense in their sacred temples. A medieval symbol of bravery and courage with an intense aroma, the herb has been known for centuries for its medicinal properties. It has antioxidant, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, and studies suggest it can even decontaminate contaminated food. It was also used as an embalming agent during the mummification of the Egyptian pharaohs: talking about a powerful ingredient! A wonderful add-on to many pasta sauce recipes, fresh thyme is a triumph when combined with fish, beans and seasonal soups. You should also try it in your Italian omelettes.
An herb that in many countries can’t find its place, but that in Italy is an absolute queen. It is used with fish and meat, and many Italians adore it in soups and sprinkled on a wide variety if vegetables. It is perfect for the ravioli together with butter. And a marriage in heaven together with white beans and garlic. To give you a sense of how much Italians love it, in Rome sage leaves are fried and eaten as healthy chips: can you imagine? Its taste and aroma are intense, powerful and dominant, and this is the reason why you can’t really combine it with other herbs: it would wipe out their flavour. This herb also has amazing properties: it is antibacterial, antispasmodic and digestive, and improves the functioning of the central nervous system. It even helps fighting excessive sweating and rheumatism (when added to the water used for a bath). Another little Italian secret: rub sage leaves on your teeth; you will destroy all traces of bad breath and find yourself with white teeth and a beautiful smile.
Posted on october 02, 2016 at 17:11 by Suzanne Stavert
Herbs are a game changer in any dish! It is too difficult to pick a favorite – Great post
Posted on july 20, 2016 at 08:16 by tIlU9DwWoR
There is a critical shortage of invarmotife articles like this.