Friday, July 20, 2007

ROSEMARY: A common ingredient in Italian food, rosemary also helps toothaches, nervous disorders, and cleaning the skin.

Shakespeare wrote, "there's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember..." Rosemary has been the symbol of remembrance, love, and death since ancient Greece and Rome, where its use in marriage and funeral rites signified enduring affection. Greek students wore rosemary in their hair to help their memory during examinations. Wreaths worn during festivals contained rosemary, and magic spells often called for it. To prevent nightmares, people put rosemary under their pillows. Hellenistic and Roman gardens almost always contained this evergreen Mediterranean native.

The "mary" in rosemary led to the herb's association with the mother of Jesus, although the name actually comes from the Latin for "dew of the sea."

Legend states that the light blue flowers of the rosemary plant received their color when Mary, fleeing to Egypt, placed her blue cloak over a rosemary bush.

Medieval homemakers grew rosemary in their kitchen gardens, using it to scent water. Rosemary was strewn in prisons to prevent contagion. Since the eleventh century, rosemary has been used for toothaches, nervous disorders, cleaning the skin, or as a tonic, to cure headaches and stomach aches, to prevent baldness, and, externally, to heal sprains and bruises. Nicholas Culpeper wrote in 1653 that rosemary "quickens a weak memory ... is a remedy for windiness in the stomach ... and takes away spots, marks, and scars in the skin."

Today, gardeners grow rosemary mainly for culinary purposes. Rosemary imparts a pungent flavor to foods and goes well with salads, potatoes, peas, and spinach. Add it to roasted root vegetables and soups; it responds well to long cooking. Crushed rosemary enhances citrus fruit, and it gives a piny flavor to pizza crust, focaccia, pasta, biscuits, and dumplings. Grilled vegetables, like tomatoes, may be sprinkled with rosemary. Toss rosemary sprigs onto the coals to impart its flavor to any grilled food; apply barbecue sauce with a branch of rosemary, or skewer the food on the sprigs and grill. (To do this, pierce the food, such as a potato, with a skewer; remove the skewer and replace it with the rosemary sprig.)

Rosemary flavors wine, butter, marinades, oil, and vinegar and can be used for making herb tea, vinegar, and jelly. It can also be used for malting herb tea, jelly, and potpourri. The flowers are edible, too. Rosemary acts as a natural insect repellent in the garden and scents soaps and perfumes.

To dry rosemary in a microwave oven, place a few sprigs between paper towels and heat on high for two to three minutes until dry and crumbly. Or use the more traditional method of hanging small sprigs upside down in a dark place until they're dry and the "needles" separate easily from the stem. Pack in airtight containers. Fresh sprigs also freeze well.

Rosemary looks like a small, twisted pine tree with the addition of blue flowers in spring and summer. Older plants become woody and gnarled. Several varieties of rosemary exist. 'Prostratus,' also called dwarf, or creeping rosemary, makes a good ground or bank cover (it controls erosion) or low hedge-it reaches a height of two feet and will spread four to eight feet. It also works well in rock gardens and trails over walls wonderfully. 'Lockwood de Forest' resembles 'Prostratus,'" but has paler, brighter leaves and bluer flowers. 'Collingwood Ingram,' with a height of two and a half feet, works well as a taller ground cover. As an added bonus, its bright blue violet flowers add color to the garden. 'Alba' and 'Miss Jessup's Upright' both have white flowers. The latter is useful for hedging. For real height, grow 'Sawyer"s Selection'-it can reach eight feet and has large, mauve-blue flowers.

Rosemary can be grown from seeds, although germination is erratic - propagation by cuttings or layering works best. Once rooted, plants should be spaced two to three feet apart. Rosemary prefers well- drained, alkaline soil and hot sun. In limey soil, the plants will be smaller, but more fragrant. Except in the desert, rosemary needs little water once established. Too much feeding or watering results in woodiness. Prune it lightly and protect plants from cold winds. Rosemary grows well in containers and in cold winter areas should be grown in them; so the plant can be brought indoors when the weather turns colder and grown under plant lights.

Rosemary has so many uses, from medicinal to fragrant to culinary, that it's a must in your yard. Whether you're planting a rock garden or herb garden, follow Shakespeare's sage advice and remember to plant some rosemary.

Sweet Rosemary Rolls

Serve these tasty rolls with Herbed Vegetable Noodle Soup for a light and satisfying lunch.

1 package dry active yeast
1/4 cup honey
1-1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 6-inch sprig fresh rosemary, finely chopped, or 2 tablespoons dried
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 to 3 cups unbleached white flour

1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon warm water

1. In a medium mixing bowl, combine yeast, honey, and water. Cover and set aside in a warm place for 10 minutes, or until foamy. Add oil, salt, rosemary, and whole wheat flour and mix well. Stir in white flour 1/2 cup at a time until a stiff dough has formed.

2. Turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes, adding flour as necessary, until dough is smooth and elastic. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and set in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

3. Preheat oven to 400° and dust a baking sheet with cornmeal. Punch down dough and divide into 8 pieces. Form pieces into balls and place on prepared sheet. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.

4. In a cup or small bowl, combine honey with water and stir until dissolved. Brush rolls lightly with glaze and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown.

Makes 8 rolls.

V PER ROLL: 269 CAL (7% from fat), 7g PROT, 2g FAT, 55g CARB, 139mg SOD, 0mg CHOL, 4g FIBER

Herbed Vegetable Noodle Soup

Prepare this wholesome soup while the rosemary roll dough is rising.

10 cups vegetable stock
2 large carrots, sliced
2 medium onions, sliced
2 ribs celery, sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
10 peppercorns
2 sprigs rosemary, snipped into pieces
2 tablespoons chopped fresh garlic chives
6 ounces noodles (eggless)

1. In a large pot, bring the stock to a boil. Add carrots, onions, celery, garlic, peppercorns, and rosemary. Simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Add chives and noodles and continue simmering until noodles are done, 3 to 10 minutes depending on the type of noodle.

Makes 6 servings.

V PER SERVING: 123.1 CAL (15% from fat), 28g PROT, 2g FAT, 23.7g CARB, 190mg SOD, 0mg CHOL, 2.1g FIBER

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