When the cold weather comes around and the holiday season appears, mint can provide some warmth and comfort to your holiday meals. Mint can adapt itself to the coming season and instead of adding it to iced tea, use it to garnish pork roasts, vegetables, sauces and desserts. My supermarket has fresh mint bunches available all year.

Whichever way one eats it, drinks it or prepares it, mint is an herb with many beneficial uses for good health. In fact, the reason most of our ancestors grew this pungent herb was for its many health benefits. Naturalists still employ peppermint to treat gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome and the common cold.

This herb, belongs to a large family with over 30 species, the most common being peppermint and spearmint. Native to the Mediterranean and Western Asia, mints interbreed often, making it difficult for even an expert to distinguish all the varieties. All mints contain the oil menthol, which gives them that characteristic cooling, cleansing feeling.

The Greeks believed mint could clear the voice and cure hiccups. In fact, mint is part of Greek mythology and according to legend – Menthe, originally a nymph and Pluto’s lover, angered Pluto’s wife, Persephone, who in a fit of rage turned Menthe into a lowly plant, to be trod upon. Pluto, unable to undo the spell, was able to soften it by giving Menthe a sweet scent, which would perfume the air when her leaves were stepped on.

Mint is a perennial and its seeds can be sowed in flats or in the ground. Once the tenacious herb takes hold in your garden, it is very easy to propagate it by cuttings and transplanting once the root system is well established. Mint needs humid soil and only moderate sunshine. It will grow in, out and around all garden plants, not unlike a weed, this herb is dedicated to spreading throughout the garden. The trick is to continuously cut them back and restrict their growth, otherwise, this herb will take over your garden. Mint can be grown in large garden pots, which is how I grow it, so I can contain it. I learned not to put in a pot with other herbs because it strangles the other herbs and they quickly die.

According to legend this is a good herb for keeping ants away from doors and combating mice and fleas. Keep mint leaves near food, beds and wardrobes. Use it to freshen the house like an air freshener and it can be simmered in a pot of water with rosemary and lemongrass to create a unique potpourri.

The mint varieties come in a number of useful flavors. There is chocolate mint perfect for desserts, spearmint and peppermint for drinks and garden mint for general cooking. Pineapple mint is delicious in salads. To reduce the effects of tannin and caffeine in your favorite tea, brew fresh mint sprigs in your teapot with your favorite tea. Steep for 2-3 minutes. Longer for a more potent flavor.

Many cooks like to add chopped mint leaves to scrambled eggs and omelets, for a change of pace flavor. Add the mint at the end of cooking the eggs. Too much heat will turn the mint bitter. Fresh mint leaves are good addition in salads. Mint is commonly paired with peas. carrots, potatoes, eggplant, beans and corn to pep up the flavor.

Mint Gelato

In Italy, mint grows everywhere and is used widely in cooking. Here are some examples of how mint fits in the Italian cuisine.

  • Fresh mint is used in combination with anchovy, red onion and peperoncino for Roman-style artichokes.
  • Mint is simmered in a veal with porcini mushroom braise.
  • Polenta is served with snails cooked in tomato, onions, wine and mint
  • A mint verde is mixed into fresh cheese and spread on crostini or tossed into hot pasta.
  • Minced mint is added along with parsley and basil to caponata and salads with fennel, olive and blood oranges.
  • Chopped mint is added to charred eggplant salad, pickled eggplant and marinated mushrooms.
  • Mint is sometimes used in the Tuscan tomato and bread salad called panzanella.
  • It is also used in tripe dishes and ragus made from wild rabbit or boar.
  • Mint is used to flavor cold seafood dishes, especially octopus salad, and rice dishes.
  • In some areas mint enhances trout and other mild fish that are simply sautéed and dressed with olive oil, sweet onion, fresh mint and lemon.
  • Mint is added to meatballs in Sicily.
  • Melons are tossed with fresh mint and balsamic vinegar.
  • After dinner, it is tossed with sugar and berries.

Mint-Almond Pesto

This pesto can be used on everything from a mozzarella salad, to a plate of fresh pasta and even as a topping for grilled rack of lamb. I like to serve it over cooked green beans.

Ingredients

  • 2 big bunches of mint
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup toasted almonds
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Wash the mint very well and pick off all the leaves on the woody stems. Put the mint, garlic, parmesan and almonds into a food processor and pulse until smooth. Squeeze in the juice of the lemon and add the olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Pulse to mix.

This pesto can be frozen. If you want to make some ahead of time– just omit the parmesan cheese until you’re ready to eat the pesto.

Risotto with Peas and Mint

Ingredients

Servings 4

  • 3/4 lb arborio rice
  • 10 oz. package frozen peas (do not thaw)
  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 3 ½ oz pancetta, diced
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 medium onion, divided
  • 4 sprigs mint
  • 4 tablespoons white wine

Directions

Divide onion in half. Chop one half and add it to a medium saucepan with 1 tablespoon of butter. Cook until onion is soft. Add the frozen peas, pour in the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to lowest setting and keep warm.

Chop remaining onion. In another large saucepan heat olive oil and saute the onion; pour in the rice and toast it, then add the diced pancetta. Add the wine and allow to evaporate.

Add the broth with the peas, 1 cup at a time, until all the liquid is all absorbed by the rice. (Takes about 20 minutes.)

When the rice is cooked, remove pan from the heat and add the remaining butter and cheese.

Serve garnished with mint leaves.

Fresh Shrimp with Oranges and Mint

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 sweet navel oranges, divided
  • 8 plum tomatoes, divided
  • 1 bunch fresh mint, divided
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 16 fresh jumbo shrimp

Directions

Prepare 16 orange garnish slices using 1 orange: slice off ¼ inch from the top and bottom of the orange and remove the rind. Segment the orange, using a knife to discard the tough inner membrane on each segment. Place in a bowl and set aside.

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Make an x with a knife on the bottom of each tomato. Place the tomatoes in the boiling water for 1 minute. Remove from water and let cool. Peel the skin from the tomatoes. Remove seeds. Cut 1 tomato into thin strips (julienne) and set aside.

Slice the remaining 3 oranges in half. Remove the orange pulp from each half using a grapefruit knife, carefully removing the orange pulp without any rind or outer membrane attached.

Julienne several mint leaves and set aside.

Chop the remaining tomatoes and place them in a skillet with the orange pulp. Simmer for two minutes with salt, pepper and one mint leaf.

Process the tomato and orange mixture in a blender with 3 tablespoons of olive oil to make the sauce. Store in the refrigerator to chill.

Sauté the shrimp in 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat until opaque in the middle. Add the julienne tomato, 4 orange segments and julienne mint leaves.

Place the orange sauce on eachof 4 platse. Place equal amounts of the shrimp mixture in the middle and garnish with a mint leaf, three orange segments and drizzle with remaining olive oil over the top.

Tuscan-Style Cauliflower

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. whole grain rotini or other short pasta
  • 1/2 small onion chopped
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 whole jarred roasted red bell pepper, sliced thin
  • 5 fresh mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper flakes or to taste
  • 1 1/4 pound cauliflower
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream or half & half
  • 1/2 cup pecorino cheese, grated
  • Black pepper freshly ground to taste
  • Toasted fresh bread crumbs

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. Cook pasta according to package instructions and drain.

Heat oil in a 14 to 18 inch skillet. Add onion and mint. Cook until soft, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the leaves and core the cauliflower. Break the florets away from the central core and cut into small pieces.

Add cauliflower to skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring regularly for about 12 to 15 minutes, until cauliflower is softened and light brown but not mushy. Stir in sliced roasted red pepper and cream. Toss hot pasta into the skillet with the cauliflower.

Add the grated cheese, black pepper and red chili pepper flakes. Toss to coat; top with toasted bread crumbs and serve immediately.

Lamb Chops with Mint Gremolata

Ingredients:

For the lamb

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 rib or loin lamb chops
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 mint sprigs, stems included and cut in pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the gremolata

  • 1 cup raw walnut halves
  • Leaves from 1 bunch of mint, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

For the lamb:

Place lamb chops, olive oil, torn mint, garlic and pepper in a large, sealable plastic bag. Toss to coat lamb chops and marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Remove chops, wipe off excess marinade and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Position the top oven rack 4 to 6 inches from the broiler element. Have a broiler pan or baking sheet lined with greased aluminum foil ready. Place chops on pan.

Broil for 5 to 7 minutes on each side (medium-rare to medium) until nicely browned.

Make the gremolata:

Place the walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground (about the consistency of very coarse sand).

Transfer to a medium bowl, then add the mint, lemon zest, garlic, salt, black pepper to taste and the oil; mix well. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed.

Serve the lamb chops with equal portions of the gremolata.

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