Talking about Herb Gardening @

Join us in an interview with  Margaret Roach at her blog/gardening magazine. Today Nichols Garden Nursery is featured. Keane is holding two fine specimens of Oregon Sweetmeat Squash Homestead. Notice the beautiful color and thick walls.  Grow it and you’ll also taste how sweet and tender it is. I am holding our very new Ruby-Gold Flint Corn and branches of true Mediterranean bay, Laurus nobilis, Rosemary Blue Gem, a Nichols introduction. Read her article, join the giveaway and learn a few herb gardening tips. Leave a comment on her blog and join the giveaway. Margaret is the former senior editor and Martha Stewart Living Magazine and author of the new and highly reviewed “and I shall find peace there” her latest book. Click the link to Margaret Roache’s article

Vietnamese Nasturtium Spring Rolls

Nasturtium blossoms and Vietnamese mint add a refreshing light touch to these rolls. The rice paper is nearly transparent and the nasturtiums backed by green lettuce are beautifully displayed. Vietnamese spring rolls are never fried and contain only the freshest ingredients. Try a few practice rolls and you’re ready to go. Perfect or not they are delicious. The recipe below has standard ingredients but the beauty of spring rolls is you can improvise. For a vegetarian roll substitute tofu and a few crunchy bean sprouts for the shrimp and replace fish sauce with soy sauce.
Marcie Wolf, our neighbor and friend, came up with the idea of using nasturtiums and took me through her process. Our photo demonstrates the prepped ingredients all in place for ease and efficiency. Use any leftovers for salad.

Ingredients for 12 rolls:

12 rice paper disks, 8.5” (banh trang)
12 perfect nasturtium flowers inspected for insects
Dark Green loose leaf lettuce torn into 5”-6” by 3” strips
Sweet red pepper cut into narrow strips
Cucumber cut into narrow strips
4 oz. fine rice vermicelli (maifun) soaked in hot water for 10 minutes.
Drain noodles, snip with scissors into 4” to 6” lengths, place
in dish with 2 teaspoons fish sauce and 1 tablespoon lime juice
1 cup Oregon bay shrimp or 24 medium cooked shrimp sliced in
half lengthwise.
2 carrots shredded or julienned
Fresh basil and mint chopped and combined
½ cup chopped roasted peanuts

Dipping Sauce to serve with spring rolls
½ cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla)
1 large clove garlic minced or pressed
1 Thai chili or jalapeno pepper minced
1 tablespoon peanut butter
Stir above ingredients together and serve in
bowl with a small ladle or tiny individual dishes.


Dip a single rice paper sheet into warm water for a few seconds until pliable and place on work surface. On lower third of rice paper place nasturtium flower face down. Trim backside so it lies flat. Cover with a piece of lettuce shiny side down. Place a pepper strip at the bottom of lettuce and a cucumber strip just above, these will anchor your ingredients making it easier to roll. Next add a few strands of vermicelli, shrimps, carrot, herbs and peanuts. Pull up bottom part of rice paper to cover filling, use pepper and cucumber to hold all in place, fold in sides and roll towards top and you have a wrapped spring roll. Tips: the paper becomes just a little elastic and with only a little practice you’ll gain a feel for this stage. You will want to play a little with exact placement of nasturtium and lettuce so the finished roll nicely displays these without any extra rice paper edge on top of them.
There are several steps but before long you’ll find it becomes quite easy. Don’t hesitate to adjust flavors if you find anything too hot, too salty or too acidic, Vietnamese Mint and Thai Basil are the most authentic herbs but don’t hesitate to use fresh spearmint and your favorite basil. Nasturtiums should not be sprayed.

If you have questions post a comment and I’ll reply.

Basil-Tomato Salsa

Salsa recipes are versatile and this is one that says Summer! Serve the “Basic Recipe” with chips or crackers.
The goat cheese log shown resting on a nest of wild arugula is summer fare. Make the full “Basic Recipe” and use half for this smokey paprika version. Add 1/4th tsp. Nichols triple smoked paprika and 1 tsp. olive oil and serve with goat cheese. Adding a spoonful of chopped capers to the “Basic Recipe” portion gives a lovely Tuscan quality. Pile onto toasted bread slices for bruschetta. These salsas are good with fish. If your palate wants more heat, acid or garlic adjust accordingly. You are the cook and summer abundance invites improvisation.

Basic Recipe
6 medium Roma Tomatoes (3 cups diced)
1 large mild onion (Walla Wallas if available)
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
4-6 Jalapeno peppers –deseeded
1 cup basil leaves, finely slivered and tightly packed
juice of 2 lemons or ¼ cup red wine vinegar
salt & pepper, to taste, a touch of sugar if needed

With a well sharpened knife trim and finely dice the tomatoes, onion, and garlic. Deseeding peppers improves texture of the salsa and produces a milder flavor. The basil leaves need to have stems trimmed away before chopping. Adjust seasonings to your taste. If you prefer to use slicing tomatoes, chop, let sit for a few minutes, and drain off excess juices.
I’ve used wild arugula which holds up in summer heat better than our standard arugula. Both will be delicious, Spread your cracker or toast with goat cheese “Chevre”, add a few sprigs of arugula and top with salsa.

Gardeners tip: beginning July 1 soils in the continental US are warm enough to direct sow basil seeds. Sow seeds about 1/2 inch apart in a sunny spot, keep damp as seeds germinate and plants develop. Thin to allow 3-4″ between developed plants. Start harvesting when 4″ tall. This is always my main crop for pesto. All this clipping doesn’t make for beautiful plants but the flavor and production is great.

Basil-Summer Sowing

Basil seeds can be sown directly into the ground though all of July and on into early August. Warm soils lead to quick germination and you should be seeing small starts within a week. Prepare a smooth seedbed and sow seeds few inches apart. Don’t plant deeply, these are small seeds and need to be barely covered with 1/8″ of fine soil. Keep soil moist during the germination period. If weather is really hot and you are trying to keep soil from drying cover with newspaper propped a few inches above the soil. Sprinkle the seedbed and the papers to help hold in moisture during the day. When seeds sprout and show a full set of leaves thin 8″ to 12″ apart.

This late planting is what I use for frozen pesto and other preserved basil. It grows fast, is less troubled by slugs and needs little coddling. One of my favorite ways to preserve basil is frozen basil cubes. Strip leaves from the stem, and place in blender with enough water to make a thick slurry. Pour this mixture into ice cube trays and freeze. These can be stored in a sturdy zip-lock bag. Just toss in one or two cubes into sauces and soups for a burst of fresh summer flavor.

Soup au Pistou, a Vegetable Soup Recipe

Soup with Pistou is a fragrant mixture of herbs and vegetables which originates from Provence France. In my mind it is an” end of the garden” soup, with a few basic ingredients and then a little of this and that is incorporated. It’s always served with a large dollop of Pistou. The Italians have Pesto containing pine nuts and the Southern French have Pistou which doesn’t include this Soup au Pistouexpensive ingredient. Both are served with pasta and spread on crusty bread. Indeed, this soup is much like an Italian minestrone.
Serve with a loaf of good bread, a light red wine, a little cheese on the side and a sweet, crisp, fresh apple for dessert. A feast for the gardener cook!

I small onion, diced
1 leek, chopped (optional)
2 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium red or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
6 Roma type tomatoes, peeled and diced
1- 2 medium zucchini, diced
2 cups cooked white beans
6 cups unsalted or low salt chicken broth, vegetable broth or 5 cups water and one cup white wine
2 bay leaves

Optional ingredients: one cup broken vermicelli, one cup diced winter squash, one cup green beans cut into 3⁄4” lengths, one cup chopped spinach or chard leaves, a few threads of saffron
Hint: Peel tomatoes by dipping in boiling water for 15 seconds, the skin just slips away.

Heat broth with bay leaves. Saute onion, leek and garlic in olive oil until transparent but not showing color. Add this mixture, potato, tomatoes, squash, green beans to simmering broth and cook for ten minutes. Add remaining ingredients and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest five minutes before serving. Remove bay leaves. Pistou should be served along side with each diner stirring in a generous spoonful. Add salt and pepper according to individual taste.

Pistou (Basil Sauce)*
3 large cloves garlic, minced
3 to 4 cups fresh large green or Genovese Basil leaves (2 oz.)
4 to 6 ounces shredded Parmesan cheese
1⁄4 cup olive oil
This is most easily made in a food processor or blender. Place garlic and basil in food processor with Parmesan cheese. Process for a few seconds, scrape down sides and drizzle in olive oil while turning processor on and off. Lightly process as pistou should be a little chunky. Leftover sauce can be kept refrigerated for 5 days or freeze in an ice cube tray for future use.

*Edited October 29, 07. When making the pistou tonight, I discovered my late harvested basil doesn’t have the moisture content it had a few weeks ago. I added three tablespoons water and an extra tablespoon olive oil to get a sauce-like consistency.

Basil & Pesto

It’s time to plant basil when night temperatures are staying above 45 degrees. Put it in too soon and temperature sensitive leaves can blacken and plants become sensitive to fungus like botrytis. Come early to mid-July when soil is warm try sowing directly in the ground for a bumper crop in late summer.

I’m often asked which variety is my favorite, a bit like asking a mother which child is her favorite. Genovese is sweet and fragrant with the faintest anise undertone, large green is our best selling and my favorite for pesto. It’s always nice to have a plant or two of lime, lemon or Thai growing in the garden. Because I’m always looking for good container varieties I’m wowed by both our Green Columnar and variegated Pesto Perpetuo, probably a sport from Greek columnar. These plants are propagated by cuttings, they never set seed because they don’t flower. No flowering means they keep vigorously producing leaves. Plants grow two to three feet tall and produce lots of fragrant savory foliage. If you are short of space and are looking for a good container variety give these a try.

There’s no end of wonderful ways to use basil. Try adding whole leaves to your summer sandwiches. Pesto is always a favorite and I have two recipes I like to use. The second with chicken broth is much lower in fat which makes it healthy every day fare.
Genovese Style Pesto
4 cups fresh basil, packed, coarse stems discarded, rinsed and spun dry
½ cup pine nuts
2-3 garlic cloves
2/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Chop basil, nuts and cheese in processor until pulverized. With machine running, gradually add olive oil. Stop and stir down sides of container and process until smooth. Taste before adding salt as it may be unnecessary. Serve on pasta, spread over freshly grilled chicken breasts or zucchini.

I really like Pesto, especially freshly made in summer when basil is abundant in the garden. For every day use I find traditional recipes are a little too luxuriant with oils and fats so I’ve taken to substituting almost all the olive oil with broth, and reducing the amount of cheese and pine nuts. Try this on hot pasta with fresh chunked up tomatoes and a generous amount of sauce. A generous spoonful of soft goat cheese stirred in gives added depth of flavor but is not essential.

Reduced Fat Pesto
1-2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 cups fresh basil
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ cup chicken or vegetable stock

Rinse basil, shake dry and remove leaves from coarse stems. Press or mince garlic before adding garlic, basil, cheese, pine nuts and olive oil to food processor or blender. Process for a few seconds and then slowly add broth until a soft paste is formed. Add salt and pepper as desired.