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Heaping On the Herbs

May 21, 1997|BEV BENNETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Bennett is the author of "Dinner for Two" (Barron's, 1994)

Some people claim to be able to grow herbs indoors all year round--and not just the sturdy stuff like rosemary, but delicate basil and tarragon as well.

I can't. One week in confinement and my herbs have to be put out of their misery.

Fortunately, greener thumbs than mine are busy each winter cultivating a variety of herbs. I reap the benefit of their talents every May at one of several fund-raiser herb sales in the Chicago area. A recent check of gardening events posted on web sites showed that this goes on throughout the country.

Basil tops my herb shopping list. It adds a taste of summer to everything from garlic bread to tomatoes. Warm weather means lots of chicken dishes in our household, and tarragon's sweet anise flavor can make a summer of chicken breasts taste good.

After recently stocking up on plants, I went through a cooking frenzy and created an herb dinner for two: a classic potato salad with pistachios for texture and a traditional basil pesto for color and rich flavor, and a skillet chicken cooked in tarragon-perfumed olive oil. I picked up the trick of scenting oil with herbs in "Jimmy Schmidt's Cooking Class" (Ten Speed Press, 1996). Instead of tarragon, Schmidt uses rosemary; thyme would also work well.


1/2 pound yellow-fleshed potatoes, cooked, peeled if desired and diced

1 stalk celery, trimmed and diced

1/4 cup chopped shallots or red onion

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachios

2 tablespoons sour cream (nonfat if desired)

2 tablespoons homemade or prepared pesto


Freshly ground white pepper

Combine potatoes, celery, shallots and pistachios in serving bowl.

Combine sour cream, pesto and salt and pepper to taste in cup and stir well. Stir sour cream mixture into potato mixture. Set aside 10 minutes for flavors to blend.

2 servings. Each serving:

203 calories; 207 mg sodium; 6 mg cholesterol; 9 grams fat; 28 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 0.93 gram fiber.


1/4 cup olive oil

4 sprigs tarragon, plus extra for garnish

2 chicken breast halves

1 clove garlic, smashed

Juice of 1/2 lemon


Freshly ground pepper

Heat oil in medium skillet. Add 4 tarragon sprigs and cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove tarragon. Add chicken breasts and brown over high heat, 5 minutes per side.

Reduce heat to medium and stir in garlic, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, frequently basting chicken with skillet juices, until completely cooked, about 20 minutes.

To serve, arrange 1 chicken breast half on each of 2 plates. Drizzle some skillet juices over chicken. Garnish each with fresh tarragon sprig.

2 servings. Each serving:

361 calories; 234 mg sodium; 87 mg cholesterol; 26 grams fat; 2 grams carbohydrates; 29 grams protein; 0.03 gram fiber.

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