Monday, December 6, 2010

ingredient: ROSEMARY

Rosemary has long been known as the herb of remembrance. Ancient Greek students wore rosemary in their hair during their exams—a practice which would definitely have backfired for me because I’d be sitting there wondering what I was going to have for lunch. (The War of the Rose..mary shrimp kabobs? Oh! Grilled cheese on rosemary bread?!) The Greeks also believed that Aphrodite, goddess of love, came out of the ocean draped in rosemary. While I’m not sure about the origin of this myth, I do suppose that many men would be prone to falling in love with a woman who smelled like a nice herbed grilled steak.

Christians, in a rather typical move, took a pagan sex symbol and turned it into a symbol of virginity. They call rosemary the “Herb of Mary” because they believe that while she was fleeing Egypt to protect her unborn child, she lay down to rest on a rosemary bush and the flowers of the plant turned blue (the color of her cloak.) In fact, medieval Christians burned rosemary at weddings to “remind” the couple to be faithful to each other. Obviously there’s no better way to say, “Cut it out I know you’re bonking the babysitter” than by serving up some rosemary shortbread.

Today, rosemary is probably best associated with a certain Simon and Garfunkel song and a film about sacrificing babies. It’s hard to say who has most wronged this beautiful evergreen shrub.

In my mind, rosemary should be the herb of endurance (and it would still make sense to burn it at weddings.) The word rosemary derives from the Latin words ros (meaning dew) and marinus (meaning sea). It was so named because rosemary plants, which are native to the Mediterranean, can survive solely on the humidity carried in the ocean air. Their hardy nature makes them similar to the pine trees which they resemble, though they are actually related to mint. Rosemary can even survive in my bedroom windowsill, where the window doesn’t open (apparently the air-conditioner man thought it would be funny to seal it shut) but it does have a crack, leaving things on the sill exposed to the freezing cold in the winter yet suffocated in heat in the summer. My reservations about torturing any living thing aside, I love having a rosemary plant around because I never use more than a sprig or two when I’m cooking and I hate having to pay for whole bunch at the grocery store. Plus, the little darling cost me only four dollars at the Union Square Farmer’s Market (meaning those of you outside of New York can probably purchase it for two). That’s one whole self-generating plant for the price of one partially damaged store-bought bunch.

Medicinally, rosemary has been used for everything from combating flatulence and baldness to curing rheumatism. While not everything has been proven by science, it is confirmed that you should grill your meats with rosemary. Why? The National Cancer Institute says that carcinogens are “formed when muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish, and poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame.” Rosemary contains effective anti-carcinogenic properties which will help shield your brain from the negative results of grilling your meat. But I can’t believe you even needed a reason to throw some rosemary on that whole grilled bronzino…

Rosemary Olive Oil Bread

As you can see, this is really a mix between a bread and a cake. It’s not sweet like say, banana bread, but it is crumbly rather than yeasty. I think it’s perfect as breakfast for people (you know who you are) who can’t stand sweets in the morning. However, if you want to be unique at a dinner party, or you’ve already stuffed your guests full, this airy, savory cake would be perfect. Dollop it (or not) with a little whipped cream or an interesting gelato flavor. Hell, a cake-bread-sweet-savory hybrid seems to fit the bill any time.

Personally, I think that orange marmalade makes the perfect topping. I'll admit that I'm sort of obsessed with the idea of tea-time and I don't know what it says about me that the thing I most treasure about being a writer is my afternoon snack. But honestly, how do you think the English managed to build that empire with so few people? It's pretty clear to me that everyone would be more efficient at work if they had a little pick-me-up in the afternoon. So make this at home, bring it into work, and conquer.

for fortitude!

Makes one 10 inch loaf (for about 8 people)


4 eggs

¾ cup sugar

2/3 cup olive oil

2 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped fine

1 ½ cups flour

1 tbsp baking power

½ tsp kosher salt


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 10 inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs until they’re one eggy mass, about 30 seconds.

Add the sugar and beat with the eggs until the mixture is foamy and pale in color.

Next, slowly beat in the olive oil.

Fold the rosemary into the batter.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

In three additions, add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture. Pour the batter into the loaf pan.

Bake the cake for 45-50 minutes, or until it is golden brown and a tester comes out clean. Let it cool on a rack.

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