Five Spring Recipes

Create delicious meals with tarragon, chervil and fennel with these six fun recipes for spring

| February/March 1999

Do humans have a gene for loving or loathing the flavor of licorice, or was our passionate response to it acquired in childhood when we sucked those cloying candy ropes that left us with sticky fingers and black tongues? Whatever the explanation, during the decade when I owned a store that sold spices, some of the most emphatic comments I heard concerned people’s feelings about licorice. Few were neutral.

Licorice flavor shows up in herbs and spices from several different plant families (see “Licorice Shtick,” page 34). Used with a light hand, any of them will lend spectacular, yet illusive, sweet notes to dishes across the culinary spectrum—from savory fish and béarnaise-sauced steak to salads and even sweet desserts. Three herbs—tarragon, chervil, and fennel—perform this role to perfection.

Five Spring Recipes

•  Asparagus in ­ Raspberry Vinaigrette
•  Corkscrew Pasta with Fennel
•  Papaya Sorbet
•  Chervil-Scented Prawns
•  Oysters Bedded in Greens  

Gardener’s Choice

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium), an annual, lacy-leaved member of the carrot family, is the most temperamental of the licorice-flavored herbs to grow here in Arizona. It reseeds prolifically if conditions are right: moderate temperatures and partial shade when temperatures climb. In the hottest climates, grow it only in the coolest months.

Sow seeds directly in well-worked garden soil in early spring (late fall in hot climates). Keep the bed moist until seedlings are up, then water as needed but never let the soil dry out: chervil draws a fine line between droopy and dead. Harvest as needed, cutting the outer leaves first.

Licorice-flavored French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa), a deciduous perennial member of the daisy family, does not produce viable seed and must therefore be propagated from divisions or rooted cuttings, usually in late spring. Avoid the flavorless Russian tarragon (A. dracunculus), which can be grown from seed. Though more heat resistant than chervil, tarragon also likes a moderate climate. In the hottest regions of the United States, Mexican mint marigold (see “Licorice Shtick,” page 34) is a good substitute. It not only thrives but tastes virtually identical to French tarragon.

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