Marjoram is a sweet tasting herb that is used interchangeably with oregano. It has tender leaves and stems, grows well just about anywhere and is a great kitchen windowsill garden choice. It is a very tender plant and in most areas, it is considered to be an annual plant. It needs full sun to develop properly. Cut back the stems and leaves as they grow and marjoram will provide you with multiple cuttings in one season. The flavor of marjoram is most pronounced when it is not cooked for a long period of time. Add it fresh to a dish during the last 5 to 10 minutes of the cooking process.

Native to the Mediterranean and Eurasia areas, marjoram has been cultivated in Egypt for over 3000 years and has been grown in England since the 13th century. The name, marjoram, is thought by most authorities to have originated from the Greek words for mountains and brightness/joy/beauty. Oregano and marjoram were commonly called “joy of the mountains” due to their beauty and abundance on the Mediterranean mountain sides, where they grew wild.

Wild Marjoram

It is important to note that in much of the history and folklore of the genus, it is difficult to distinguish between sweet marjoram and oregano, since many authors have used the name marjoram to describe both plants, and historically, both (sweet marjoram) and (wild marjoram/oregano) have been called marjoram. The physical similarity of the plants and the difficulty with proper identification have been a historical problem that persists still today.

Sweet marjoram has long been an herb of love. According to Roman legend, the goddess of love, Venus, gave the plant its scent “to remind mortals of her beauty”.  A similar legend surrounds Aphrodite, Venus’s counterpart in Greek mythology, who is said to have created sweet marjoram and grew it on Mount Olympus. Marjoram has been used in love potions and spells and as a wedding herb in nosegays and bridal bouquets. In ancient Greece and Rome, a crown of marjoram was worn by the bride and groom during the wedding ceremony. There is more than one folk tradition linking marjoram to love and dreams. According to one legend, if a woman placed marjoram in her bed before going to sleep, Aphrodite would appear in a dream to “reveal her future spouse’s identity”.

Sweet marjoram was a popular culinary herb in Europe during the Middle Ages, when it was used in cakes, puddings and porridge. Records of its culinary use date back to the 1300s in Spain and Italy, when it was added to stews and shellfish. Marjoram was a common salad herb and was also used to flavor eggs, rice, meats and fish during the Renaissance. Both marjoram and oregano have been used to make teas and, prior to the introduction of hops, wild marjoram/oregano was an ingredient in beer and ale.

Sweet marjoram has a wide variety of culinary uses. It can flavor liqueurs and herbal vinegars and it is used in a variety of meat and vegetable dishes. Leaves, flowers and tender stems can be added to stews, poultry stuffing, syrups, salad dressings, cheese mixtures for sauces and spreads, seafood, omelets, pizza and sausages. Sweet marjoram compliments mushrooms, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, squash, peas and asparagus. It combines well with other herbs, especially garlic and parsley.

With its sweetness, marjoram is a natural addition to desserts. If you lived in the 16th century, you may have been treated to sugar flavored and scented with marjoram flowers. Many chefs use sweet marjoram for crème brulee, ice cream, custards, pies/tarts and other fruit desserts. The herb also complements apples, melons and tropical fruits like papaya and mango. Commercially, sweet marjoram is an ingredient in many processed foods, where the seeds are used in meat products, candy, beverages and condiments.

Italian Marjoram Flavored Tomato Sauce

In Italy, the most popular sauce herb is marjoram.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red chili, dried
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 -26 to 28 oz containers Italian plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 handful marjoram, roughly chopped

Directions:

Mix together all the above ingredients, except for the marjoram, in a saucepan and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Add marjoram and simmer for 5 minutes.

Note: This sauce is good on pasta with meat added to it, on vegetables and in recipes where a tomato sauce is needed. It also makes a good pizza sauce.

Red Pepper and Fennel Salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 large red bell peppers
  • 2 fennel bulbs, about 1¼ pounds
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh marjoram leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds. Slice them into 1/4-inch slices.

Trim and clean the fennel and cut it lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices. Blanch in boiling salted water for one minute. Drain, cool to room temperature and pat dry.

Arrange the peppers and fennel in a serving bowl.

Pour the vinegar into a small bowl. Whisk in the olive oil to form an emulsion. Stir in the garlic, marjoram and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.

Drizzle the vinaigrette over the vegetables. Marinate for an hour at room temperature before serving. Serves 4 as a salad or 6 as an appetizer.

Pasta and Squash with Marjoram

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz Penne Pasta
  • 1 medium butternut squash, about 2 lbs.
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup loosely packed fresh marjoram leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375° F. Line a 10×15-inch jelly roll pan with aluminum foil.

Using a large, heavy knife, cut off the ends of the squash and peel.

Cut squash in half, remove and discard seeds. Cut squash into 3/4-inch cubes.

Place squash in a mixing bowl and drizzle with oil. Add garlic and season with salt and pepper; toss to coat squash evenly.

Spread in a single layer on the foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 25 minutes or until the squash is tender.

Cook pasta according to directions. Drain.

Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Add marjoram to butter and cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently. (Do not allow butter to brown.) Stir in stock and season with salt and pepper. Cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Stir in cream; simmer, stirring frequently, for 1 to 2 minutes.

Toss together cooked pasta, squash and sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Tip: Winter squash, including butternut, is hard and has a tough skin. To make it easier to cut, pierce the squash in several spots with a knife, then microwave on High (100%) power for 1 to 2 minutes. Let it stand 2 to 3 minutes before cutting.

Swiss Chard Torte

Serves 8 as an appetizer or 4 as a main course served with a side salad.

For the crust:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly toasted and finely ground
  • 1/2 cup dry Marsala wine
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the filling:

  • 2 big bunches Swiss chard (or spinach), thick stalks removed, leaves roughly chopped
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly toasted
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
  • 1/4 cup yellow raisins, soaked in 2 tablespoons Marsala or white wine
  • 5 or 6 marjoram sprigs, leaves chopped
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup grated Grana Padano cheese

Directions:

In a large bowl mix together the flour, the salt and the ground fennel. Add the Marsala, stirring it in briefly. Add the olive oil and stir until a sticky ball forms. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead quickly until it’s relatively smooth, only about a minute or so. The dough will feel a little oily. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest, unrefrigerated, for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

While the dough is resting, fill a large pot of water and bring it to a boil. Blanch the Swiss chard for about 2 minutes. Drain it into a colander and run cold water over it to stop the cooking. Squeeze as much water out of the chard as you can. 

In a large sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté until it softens, about a minute or so. Add the chard, seasoning it with salt, black pepper and the fennel seeds; sauté about 2 minutes longer. Add the raisins with their soaking liquid and the almonds. Take the pan off the heat and add the marjoram. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes, then add the eggs and the Grana Padano cheese, mixing them in well.

Roll out the dough and fit it into a 9-inch tart pan, leaving a little overhang all around. Pour in the filling, and smooth out the top. Trim the dough overhang neatly all around. Drizzle the top with a little olive oil. Bake until the crust is browned and the filling is firm, about 40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Red-Wine Pot Roast with Porcini

6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup low-salt beef broth
  • 1/2 ounce of dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 4-pound boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed of fat
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks with some leaves, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram, plus sprigs for garnish
  • 1 26-28-ounce container Italian peeled chopped tomatoes
  • 1 cup dry red wine

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300°F. Bring broth to simmer in saucepan. Remove from heat and add the mushrooms, cover, and let stand until soft, about 15 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to a cutting board. Chop coarsely. Reserve mushrooms and broth separately.

Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper. Heat oil in heavy large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add beef and cook until brown on all sides, about 15 minutes total. Transfer beef to large plate. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the drippings from the pot. Place pot back over medium heat. Add onion and celery. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and sauté until beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and reserved porcini mushrooms; sauté 1 minute. Add tomatoes and cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add wine; boil 5 minutes. Add reserved mushroom broth, leaving any sediment behind. Boil 5 minutes.

Return beef and any accumulated juices to the pot. Cover; transfer to the oven. Cook 1 1/2 hours. Turn beef, add chopped marjoram. Cover and continue cooking until tender, about 1 1/2 hours longer. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cool, cover and keep refrigerated.)

Transfer beef to a cutting board; tent with foil. Cut beef into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Transfer to a platter.

Remove any fat from the surface of the sauce in the pot and season with salt and pepper. Spoon a little sauce over the meat on the platter and garnish with additional marjoram. Serve the additional sauce on the side.

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