Rosemary is perfect with lamb, sage is a triumph with pork, mint brings out the flavour of peas and tarragon and chicken were made for each other. I wouldn’t argue with any of that, but it seems such a waste of herbs to be boxed in with particular pairings. Let me suggest a much simpler approach: choose varieties that you like and which are at their best, rather than sticking rigidly to formulas. I also want to put in a plea for using more fresh herbs at the last minute. It’s not only parsley, mint and basil that can be used as a final flourish. Most herbs will give a fillip of flavour and freshness if chopped in at the end of cooking or used as a garnish when serving, although I should hold back on sage and rosemary.
If you’ve got a garden or window box herb glut (mine is not so much a glut of sage as a forest this year), it’s worth remembering that, apart from using whatever you have in excess to flavour oils, vinegars and butters, you can freeze most herbs on their stems in small bags. With basil, because it bruises so easily and even more easily after it has been frozen, I usually pull the leaves off before freezing them.
Rocket, basil, mint and parsley soup
This a pretty green, vibrantly flavoured, creamy soup, which I like to serve cold, but which can equally be enjoyed as soon it’s made. When cold, it will look as if it has lost some of its colour, but that’s only the surface, so give it a good stir. Vary the herbs as you like - coriander, chervil and fennel are other favourites - but aim for between 180g and 200g in total – and if you include sorrel bear in mind that you may not need much, if any, lemon. Without the herbs, this recipe can be used as the base for all sorts of other soups. Serves 6
100 g butter 400 g onions, chopped 225 g potato, peeled and diced 1.3 litres of stock (preferably homemade chicken) 200m semi-skimmed milk 60g rocket 45g basil 20g mint 60g parsley
juice of half a lemon 150 ml double cream sea salt and freshly ground pepper a handful of chives or some sprigs of chervil (optional)
Melt the butter in a large heavy-based pan. Sauté the onions and potatoes on a medium-low heat for about 30 minutes until the onion is soft and the potato is cooked. (If you have waxy potato that is reluctant to soften, add about 300ml of the hot stock and boil until the potato is cooked.)
Liquidise the onion and potato with about 300ml of the stock (if you’ve already used some stock to finish cooking the potato, you may not need to add much). Pour the liquidised mixture back into the pan and add the rest of the stock and the milk. Bring back to the boil and boil for a minute.
Meanwhile chop the herbs together very finely (this is best done in a processor). Stir them into the soup. Turn off the heat. Stir in the lemon, then the cream. Season to taste – expect to be generous with both.
Leave to go cold or serve immediately, snipping the chives on top or adding a sprig of chervil to each soup plate, if using.
Photographs by Joanna Simon