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The Best Herbs to Warm Up Your Winter

Kenny Kong, Chef De Cuisine at The Fullerton Hotel Sydney, shares his tips on growing and cooking with winter herbs at home.

The Best Herbs to Warm Up Your Winter

Do you know the difference between herbs and spices? It’s simpler than you think—it all depends on which part of the plant is used.

The leaves of a plant are considered “herbs”, while “spices” refers to the other parts of the plant including roots, branches, flowers, seeds, fruits and berries. Herbs have been used as cooking ingredients for thousands of years and have been an essential culinary element for as long as anyone can remember. Whether fresh, dried, chopped or whole, herbs add that extra flavour, colour and aroma that you need to make the perfect dish.

Fresh vs. Dried Herbs: When Should I Use Which?

You might think that it’s best to use fresh herbs in your cooking—but that’s not always true. Kenny Kong, Chef De Cuisine at The Fullerton Hotel Sydney, recommends using dried herbs at the beginning of the cooking process as flavours take much longer to release and develop, while fresh herbs should be used near the end of the cooking process because oils and aromas are secreted quickly.

Growing Your Own Winter Herbs

Herbs are generally quite hardy and can thrive throughout the year; but there are a few which grow particularly well when winter comes around. The great thing about herbs, says Kenny, is that they require minimal attention, as long as they are planted in a sunny spot and watered every two to three days. 

Some of his favourite herbs to grow at home during winter include basil, lemon verbena, parsley, rosemary, thyme and sage, as the warmer months tend to affect these herbs’ yield and flavour. “Winter herbs come in an extensive yet distinct spectrum of flavours which range from sweet to savoury to peppery,” he says, and growing a variety of herbs guarantees that he has a full selection to suit the range of dishes that he cooks at home.

"The main reason why I started growing herbs in the first place is because I can be 100 percent confident that my herbs have been organically grown with tender love and care. Plus, homegrown herbs always taste better than those that I’ve purchased from a supermarket!”

And the best thing, adds Kenny, is that these winter herbs are perfect for beginners looking to grow their own at home—just plant them either in the ground or as a pot plant.

Cooking with Winter Herbs

With their intense flavours and aromas, winter herbs such as thyme, rosemary and parsley complement red meats and poultry perfectly. But Kenny’s go-to dish when short on time is a simple yet delicious Pasta with Sage Brown Butter Sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano. “This dish is fantastic—you only need six ingredients and 20 minutes to prepare!”

. . .

Pasta with Sage Brown Butter Sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano
Makes four servings

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 whole lemon
1 pound of fresh or dried pasta of your choice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
30 fresh sage leaves (depending on the size of the leaves)
1 cup (or more!) of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a palmful of salt to the water, followed by the pasta. Take note of the cooking time indicated on the pasta packaging and cook the pasta until it is near al dente (tender). 
2. While the pasta is cooking, place the butter in a skillet or saucepan large enough to hold the cooked pasta. Cook on medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the fresh sage leaves. Cook until the butter turns a light brown and the sage shrivels, then turn the heat to a low setting. 
3. When the pasta is almost done, scoop out one cup of the pasta water and set it aside. Drain the pasta and immediately add the pasta to the butter-sage mixture. Raise the heat to a medium setting. Add 3/4 cup of the pasta water to the mixture and stir. The mixture should become loose and slightly soupy. Cook the mixture for about 30 seconds, or until some of the water has absorbed and the pasta is al dente or cooked to your desired firmness. 
4. Stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano. The sauce should now be of a creamy consistency. Season liberally with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately with a few squeezes of lemon juice. Pass more cheese around the table if you wish, and enjoy!