I often took oregano, that signature flavour of Mediterranean and Mexican cuisine, for granted.
That is, until I started drying my own.
You would never guess that the oregano from the garden with its peppery and earthy notes is the same bland herb that is commonly used in commercial pizza sauces and in "Italian" spiced tinned tomatoes.
In the spring, I buy plants as opposed to seeds. Although I do experiment with seeds, plants allow me to select the flavour of oregano I prefer as seeds can vary. When the plants are full and only starting to bud, I begin the process of drying a good quantity for the months ahead. Strangely enough, I rarely use it fresh, preferring its more delicate cousin, marjoram, and thyme (which lasts in my container garden year round), for fresh use.
Drying your own oregano is easy. Tie the stems together and hang bunches in a warm, dry place that is well ventilated. When dry, I simply store it 'as is' in a paper bag in a cool, dark cupboard. As I require it, I just take one bunch, crumble the leaves and small buds off the branches into a sieve (to remove any stems) and then into a plastic bag. Storing the bulk of the branches whole aids in retaining volatile oils (read: flavour) and picking your own at its optimum gives even more flavour than you'll find in the supermarket packets.
What to do with all these herbs?
I think the list is pretty endless.. everything from classic Mediterranean to Latin American fare. It is a great addition to a marinade for olives and feta, is essential in most of my salad dressings, fantastic with lemon, a must for pizza, its sharper flavour is balanced nicely by cilantro and it a natural with cumin. Meat and vegetables alike both benefit from its use and contrary to many other herbs, oregano revels in a nice slow cook making comfort food tastier be it in stew, deeply flavoured sauces or hearty roasted meals.
With this rain, it is definitely a comfort food day. The aroma of roasting veggies and oregano will complement this weather nicely.