Hallingbury Events Company chef Alistair Dibbs gives his recipes for salsa verde and a honey, mustard and dill dressing
Top chef Alistair Dibbs, from Little Hallingbury, extols the virtues of growing, cooking and eating your own food...
I absolutely love herbs and could not possibly cook without them! They are that vital ingredient which enhances your cooking and takes it to the next level.
I see them as the most effective way to transform and elevate a dish that could be rather ordinary into something memorable. In the right hands they can be used to create flavours that are truly magical.
Certain herbs are synonymous with a particular cuisine – basil with Italian food, coriander with Mexican food and dill with Nordic cuisine to name but a few.
There are also many natural flavour marriages between herbs and main ingredients - some of my personal favorites are lamb and lavender, salmon and dill, tomatoes and basil and chicken and tarragon.
Whilst herbs are commonly used in marinades for meat and fish, I use them more often in sauces and dressings as many herbs are at their best when freshly picked and made into a quick sauce or dressing just before serving, so having a ready supply in the garden really is ideal.
Growing herbs is super simple, incredibly rewarding and the good news is you really don't need much space at all! Before we got our greenhouse I always started my herbs off on a window sill and would plant them outside when the weather warmed up, although if you have a conservatory you can grow them all year round.
Here are my top tips for growing one of my favourite herbs, basil, but you can apply these tips to most herbs.
In late March or April, fill a propagator tray with compost and plant three basil seeds per pot. Place them on a windowsill and lightly water them each day.
When the seedlings are large enough to handle, remove the weaker two of the three seedlings and discard them, leaving the strongest one in the pot. When the basil plants reach around 10cm in height, transplant the remaining seedlings into larger pots and allow them to grow to around 15cm high before placing them outside in the daytime (but bringing them back inside at night) provided it is not too cold. Do this for around a week for them to acclimatise to the lower outside temperatures, this is called 'hardening off'.
At this point you can remove them from the pots and plant them in the ground, but I find it easier to keep them in pots as this gives the option to easily move them to make way for other crops which need to be planted in the ground. Feed them with a tomato feed such as Tomorite once a week.
They will continue to grow and produce leaves until the temperatures cool down in autumn, so it's important to pick the leaves regularly, leaving some near the base of each plant to encourage new growth.
Here are two of my all-time favourite herb-inspired dressing recipes...
Salsa verde – this is a highly fragrant dressing with capers, lemon and lots of herbs, perfect with fish or chicken
(makes 8 generous portions)
- 40g basil
- 40g parsley
- 20g mint
- 5g tarragon
- 20g capers
- 10g Dijon mustard
- 100ml extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic
- Juice of half a lemon
- Place all the ingredients apart from the olive oil and lemon juice into your blender or smoothie maker. Simply blend all the ingredients together until they are very smooth.
- Next, while the blender is running, slowly pour in the olive oil. Add the lemon juice and check the seasoning. The salsa should be the consistency of pouring cream and a beautiful bright green colour.
- Add some seasoning if needed – you should be able to taste all the different herbs as well as the sharpness of the lemon and capers.
Honey, mustard and dill dressing – perfect with smoked or roast salmon or just with a simple salad
(makes 8 portions)
- 25g wholegrain mustard
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 25ml white wine vinegar
- 40g runny honey
- 120ml vegetable oil
- 60ml extra virgin olive oil
- Cracked black pepper and sea salt
- 20g chopped dill
- Place the mustard, lemon zest, vinegar and honey in a bowl and whisk for half a minute to incorporate some air into the mixture.
- Continue whisking and slowly trickle the vegetable oil into the mixture; it will thicken as the oil gets whisked in.
- Squeeze in the lemon juice to thin down the dressing and then slowly trickle in the olive oil.
- Lightly season the dressing with salt and pepper and finally throw in the chopped dill to finish.
Alistair runs Hallingbury Events Company – www.hallingburyeventscompany.co.uk – a creative food-led wedding and event caterer based near Bishop's Stortford. They will cater in your home or venue and also have an events space at the Red Lion in Weston, near Hitchin. Instagram @hallingburyevents.