You’ve seen it in gourmet markets, food catalogs and on the menu in French restaurants. Herbes de Provence: one taste of these complex layers of flavor and I was a convert. But, what’s in it?
1. A brief history of Herbes de Provence
Provence is a reference to an area in southeastern France, where herbs grow in surprising abundance. The French region got its name from its history as the first Roman province outside of Italy.
Herbes de Provence is classic blend of dried herbs native to the Provence region in southern France. Herbs are cut and gathered from farm, field and countryside to use in traditional French dishes. Rosemary, thyme and lavender are the base for the blend, without these it is not Herbes de Provence. In addition basil, marjoram, oregano, savory and sometimes fennel are found in many popular blends. The recipe varies by what the local farms are growing throughout the region.
Is that jar in the market of Herbes de Provence even from France? Probably not. Spice wholesalers everywhere buy from growers in Eastern Europe, North Africa and China. So how fresh is that jar of spices? Chances are it has been sitting on a cargo ship, a shelf, or in a warehouse for a year or two.
2. Fresher herbs equals richer flavor
Growing your own herbs at home and using them in the kitchen is a joy like no other. Fresh cut herbs, dried and blended will provide flavors no commercial brand can match. And, it doesn’t require acres of space. Six mid-sized pots, a deck or patio and you are in business. Nearly 100% of my culinary herbs are grown in containers, scattered around patios and walkways.
Start with six basics: basil, lavender, oregano, rosemary, French tarragon and thyme. This will provide an excellent Herbes de Provence blend, and only requires several square yards of patio or deck space.
When ready to harvest, cut the herbs and tie into small bundles. Hang the herb bundles in a warm, dark place to dry. A garage, basement or closet works well for this. Thin leaved herbs such as Italian parsley or thyme will take about a week to dry during summer months. Herbs with thicker leaves such as sage or rosemary will take longer, 2 to 4-weeks.
After the herb bundles are completely dry, place individual herbs in large bowl and crush the leaves with your fingers. Then, store in airtight containers. Ball canning jars are a handy way to store herbs in larger quantities for use throughout the year. Just remember to keep them out of the sunlight and in a dark cabinet or box.
When you are ready to blend the Herbes de Provence, place the individual herbs in a food processor or blender and pulse it several times for the final texture.
Measure each herb and blend well for the recipe. Store in an airtight container.
Note: always use dried herbs for Herbes de Provence.
1-tablespoon lavender flowers
1-tablespoon French tarragon