Herb-Infused Recipes from a Chef

Beehive Chefs AssociationRecipes:

• Harvest Lasagna
• Fresh Tomato and Herb Sauce
• Fresh Egg Pasta

Sandwiched into a vacant lot between two apartment buildings in downtown Salt Lake City, an herb garden flourishes. Pass­ersby can glimpse cinnamon basil and bronze fennel where they might have expected to see weeds and rubble. The plot, maintained by students in the Beehive Chefs Association training program for professional chefs, is a learning ground for the art of growing and using fresh herbs. To gain certification from the chef organization, students must spend some time working in this garden.

In the culinary business, a good working relationship with fresh herbs is a decided advantage. The chefs’ garden is part of a larger community garden that adds greenery to a downtown sea of concrete and automobiles. This amiable arrangement is made possible by the University of Utah, which owns the land and lends it to the Beehive Chefs apprentices and other Salt Lake gardeners. The chef organization, a chapter of the American Culinary Federation, pays for the water to maintain the herb garden, which was first planted about ten years ago. There are currently sixty-six students in the two- and three-year culinary programs.

“The garden is basically a learning experience so the students can see what the herbs look like, what they smell like, what they taste like, of course, and how to grow them and use them,” says Barry Knabe, a sous-chef for a downtown bank who was introduced to the garden when he was a chef-in-training. He has been involved in various capacities with the garden ever since and is often there now to buy fresh herbs for meals he prepares for bank officials and important clients.

Besides being sniffed, touched, and tasted by the student chefs and used in their classes, herbs from the garden are sold to an herb retailer who distributes them to area restaurants and supermarkets. The money raised by the garden, which last year netted about $1400, underwrites a scholarship for a worthy culinary student and pays for needed equipment and plant starts.

A wide diversity of herbs grows in the Beehive Chefs’ four plots, each measuring about 12 by 30 feet: many varieties of thymes and sages, lavender, tarragon, chives and garlic chives, Greek oregano and marjoram, spear­mint and peppermint, lovage, curly and flat-leaved parsleys, and enough basil to pesto a city.

“We can sell as much basil as we can grow,” Knabe says. Among the varieties represented are Dark Opal, Purple Ruffles, sweet basil, Spicy Globe, lemon basil, and licorice and cinnamon basils.

Knabe says that many of the students start out with little or no familiarity with fresh herbs. As he takes them around the garden, he picks up a leaf or sprig and asks them what it is. Then he has them close their eyes as he pinches a leaf under their noses. “Memorize the smell,” he tells them. Last, he has them taste the leaves. Every time Knabe works in the garden, he puts the apprentices through the same drill: look at this, smell it, name it.

“Fresh herbs are so much better than dried, I use as much in my cooking as possible,” Knabe says. His enthusiasm for herbs and cooking in general has led to his participation in many projects, including continuing education cooking classes for the school district and cooking demonstrations at the beautiful Red Butte Gardens, a public park nearby that is also owned by the University of Utah.

Working in the community herb garden for the chef certification program was Knabe’s first experience with herbs at their peak of freshness and flavor; the lesson that has carried over into his cooking career is to not settle for less. He and head chef Bub Horne have a constantly changing menu in the bank’s executive dining room, and many of the dishes feature fresh herbs. Knabe runs through a typical day’s menu. A Cajun blackened venison appetizer might be followed by a watercress soup and a choice of a fresh herb and barley salad or mixed baby greens with lemon thyme vinaigrette. For an entrée, diners might select paella Portugaise, a rice dish made with shellfish and saffron; roasted lamb chops stuffed with basil pesto; or sole rou­lade made with dill and garlic chives.

We asked Knabe to share his recipe for Harvest Lasagna, which appears on the following pages. It’s a terrific dish for this time of year when zucchini plants are overzealous and oregano is looking for more territory to conquer.

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