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5 Common Herbs Used in Italian Cooking


By: Emily Murray

Italian cooking is known for combining simple cuisine with extremely high quality ingredients. It’s also a very common comfort food. Pasta made from scratch, produce picked fresh from the garden, and seafood caught fresh from the local waters are all incorporated into the delicious Italian dishes that we all know and love. Using fresh ingredients can add flavor and appeal to any dish which is a common lesson taught in Italian cooking class. Without the addition of "Italian" herbs, however, these dishes would never be complete because their unique flavors would not be drawn out. The following are 5 of the most common herbs used in Italian cooking.

1) Rosemary
Rosemary is a perfect complement to roast lamb and a wide variety of other meat dishes. It is extremely fragrant--almost overwhelming if not used carefully. Some Italian breads (like focaccia) are baked with bits of rosemary in them. Roasted potatoes also gain flavor from rosemary sprigs. Remember that you only need a little bit of rosemary to make a big impression in Italian cooking.

2) Oregano
Oregano is a very aromatic herb that gives food a crisp and appetizing spark. Also known as wild marjoram, oregano is often cultivated in the Mediterranean. This herb is most commonly used in southern Italy where it is sprinkled on top of pizza. It is a common ingredient in pizza spice mixes in the United States. Unlike most other herbs, oregano retains nearly its entire flavor when dried. Other herbs only obtain their pungent aromas when eaten fresh.

3) Basil
Basil is king of the Italian herbs because it is used in nearly every recipe. If you were to enroll in Italian cooking class today, chances are your first recipe would likely include it as one of the ingredients. The majority of Italian dishes make use of some kind of tomato sauce. Basil is almost always added to this sauce to give it a boost of flavor. This herb goes well with tomato soup, pastas, and meat marinades. Another Italian creation, pesto, would not be the flavor powerhouse it is without the addition of a generous amount of basil.

4) Garlic
Garlic is beloved in Italian cooking. This herb is actually a distant cousin of the onion. It is believed to have health-enhancing properties and even thought to kill bacteria. While certain dishes such as the aglio and olio e peperoncino pasta would not be complete without garlic, some dishes are believed to be overpowered by the strong flavors of garlic. This is why garlic is generally added to very specific dishes so that the taste is complemented. Some old-school Italians look down on the usage of garlic because they believe it only covers up the more subtle flavors in a dish, but it remains extremely popular in American-Italian foods and restaurants.

5) Parsley
This herb is used for so many different dishes and for so many different reasons. Parsley is one of the most widely used herbs in Italian cuisine because it is present in the foods from all regions of Italy. More specifically, the flat-leaf variety is favored for use in authentic Italian recipes. It is usually finely chopped and tossed into sauces, meat plates, and soups. Since flat-leaf parsley possesses a bold and unique flavor, cilantro and curly-leaf parsley don't make for good alternatives.

If you are looking for a cooking class to learn more about Italian cooking, find information on MasterChef cooking classes here.

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