It’s hard to imagine Italian food without oregano, that wonderful herb that marries so well with tomato sauces, fried vegetables and grilled meats. Together with basil, sage, garlic and olive oil, it forms the basis of the Italian palette of flavors.
It’s not only the taste of oregano that’s appealing. Tinctures and extracts of oregano are also used to scent soaps, laundry detergents and even perfumes.
Most people are familiar with oregano in its dried form – especially on pizza (beware of pizza spice mixtures often delivered with take-out pizza, they may also contain sugar and MSG) – but it is also used as a flavoring ingredient in commercial cheese products, sauces and various canned goods.
In my kitchen I use both dried and garden-grown fresh oregano in a wide variety of dishes like salads and with potato dishes, marinated fennel and other vegetables (especially mushrooms).
Oregano also has an affinity to garlic, red onion, olives, capers and anchovies. Recently I infused agave (but you can use light honey) with a few fresh oregano leaves and a few drops of rosewater and drizzled it over halved fresh figs. It was pure heaven.
If you buy a bunch of fresh oregano, you’ll notice that it easily darkens when bruised, so the best way to store it is to gently wrap it in paper towels, dribble in a few drops of water, seal in a ziplock bag and chill. To enhance the scent and flavor, crush the leaves between your fingers, or with the palm of your hand, before adding.
Native to the Mediterranean, oregano was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans, and is still an integral part of Greek and Italian cuisine. It is also widely used in Turkish, Spanish, Mexican and Portuguese kitchens, among others.
All types of oregano have some medicinal properties, but apparently the
Mediterranean kind is the most effective, particularly because it
includes high amounts of carvacrol, a powerful antioxidant which may
help prevent heart disease and certain types of cancer. The oil
extracted from the leaves is considered strongly antiseptic,
antispasmodic, carminative and anti-fungal, which means you can put a
few drops in a glass of water to ward off colds and flu, or apply it to
the skin when necessary.
Note: There are several kinds of oregano
oils available in Israel, often made from marjoram or less effective
strains of oregano in cheap carrier oils. To date, only Oreganol is “the
real McCoy” – extracted from hand-picked organic Mediterranean oregano
blended with extra-virgin olive oil.SPINACH AND OREGANO PESTO WITH PISTACHIOS
Use this multi-purpose pesto on foccaccia or pasta, mix with white cheese as a dip or spread, and add to soup and sandwiches.
make this really quickly, use prewashed spinach. Always pick over
spinach, prewashed or not, to remove stems and small pods. Use a small
blender or food processor attachment if available.
Freeze in an
ice-cube tray in the freezer, pop out the frozen cubes and store in an
airtight container lined with parchment paper. To store in the
refrigerator, place in an airtight jar and cover the top with a layer of
Vary the recipe by substituting chopped walnuts for
pistachios, or avocado oil for olive oil. Add a few tablespoons of
freshly grated Parmesan or hard goat cheese if desired.
✔ 1 cup (packed) fresh spinach leaves
✔ 1 cup fresh oregano leaves
✔ 1⁄2 cup fresh parsley leaves
✔ 2-3 Tbsp. toasted pistachio nuts
✔ 2 tsp. lemon juice
✔ Salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste
✔ 1 large garlic clove
✔ 2-3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
all the ingredients together except the olive oil till smooth or
slightly chunky if you like. With the machine running, drizzle in the
olive oil slowly and process till blended.
Season with salt and pepper and blend again. Taste and add more oil, lemon juice or seasoning if necessary.SLICED EGGPLANT WITH PESTO OREGANO AND GOAT CHEESE 4 servings (2 per person)
to make, this serves as a great snack or first course, especially but
not only for those who don’t like tomatoes. For a more substantial
serving, cut the slices thicker. They will take slightly more time to
brown on both sides.
✔ 2-3 elongated light-weight eggplants
✔ 1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
✔ 1⁄2 tsp. dried oregano
✔ 1 clove garlic, crushed
✔ Fresh oregano pesto (recipe above)
✔ Grated or sliced goat cheese
the top off of each eggplant and cut lengthwise into thin even slices.
(This takes a little practice, so it’s good to have an extra eggplant
around.) Do not cut too thin, or the slice will fall apart.
the grill in the oven, and line a large baking pan with parchment
paper. In a small bowl, mix olive oil, dried oregano and garlic. Brush
both sides of each eggplant slice with the mixture. Grill the slices
till golden brown on both sides. Watch carefully so they don’t burn, and
remove done slices as necessary. Let cool in the pan.
tablespoon or more of pesto lengthwise on each slice, and top with
sliced or grated cheese. Sprinkle with a few fresh oregano leaves or a
pinch of the dried. Slip under the broiler again till the cheese is
melted and slightly golden.Q & AIs
there really any difference between “Atlantic” sea salt which I
understand is very trendy here, and just plain regular kosher salt? Hannah Fortuna
grayish looking “Atlantic” sea salt is pure unwashed sea salt that has
been collected without rinsing. It retains the natural chemical balance
that nature intended. Regular table salt, kosher salt and very white
coarse or fine sea salts have been rinsed, which affects both the flavor
and natural chemical balance which some sources claim creates an
imbalance in the body. I prefer to use unrinsed “Atlantic” coarse sea
salt whenever possible.Why does
cheese always seem to go moldy after just a few days in my
refrigerator, even though the last day of sale is weeks away? I thought
Tnuva cheeses contained preservatives. I
took it back to the store once or twice, but now I’m too embarrassed so
I either don’t buy it at all or consume it the same day.Raphael Harris
hard cheeses do contain preservatives, so even if you store opened
uncovered packages in the refrigerator the cheese would get hard rather
than moldy. I suspect that the problem is the temperature in your
(The refrigerator can have a problem even if the
freezer works normally). If the refrigerator is as cold as it can be and
the problem is still happening, I suggest that you either buy a
thermometer to check the temperature or call in a service person to
check it out.I think my knives need a good professional sharpening. Where in Tel Aviv can I get that done?
think it’s important to have some kind of knife sharpener in the home
because if you use them frequently you should also sharpen them
Electric and manual knife sharpeners are available in most kitchen utensil outlets.
can have them professionally sharpened at Lublinsky on King George
Street (just a block before the entrance to the Carmel Market). But in a
fix, you can always run both sides of the knife blade alongside an
unglazed ceramic bowl or dish. Remember – good cutting knives should
never be washed in a dishwasher because the soap can damage the blade.
It’s also a good idea to store them in a wooden block or on a magnetized
strip on the wall.