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Now, back to my bay leaves.
It's amazing what a few sprigs of herbs can do to lift a dish. The below recipe uses rosemary, thyme and bay leaves. Since we grow our own bay tree on our treacherously hot balcony I thought I should provide a recipe that uses it.
I am impressed that this little tree has survived since our balcony has zero protection from the sun and severe reflections from the glass ceiling of the plaza below us. We installed a bamboo fence as a shield from the glass, but this causes all our plants to grow straight upwards instead of branching out. As you can see from the photo, the poor tree is a little stressed and bean-pole like!
We like to cook with fresh bay leaves a lot of the time. They somehow add a certain fresh bay flavour that dried ones don’t produce. But you do need more of them when you use them fresh.
Bay leaves are also called laurel and were prized in ancient Greece where they were awarded as a wreath to winning athletes. Roman Emperor’s wore golden crowns of laurel and in fact the English word ‘bachelor’ comes from this herb through French from the Latin words bacca-laureus meaning laurel berry.
In Medieval times they used it to induce sweating (and even abortion) and since the leaves, oil and berries have narcotic qualities, some people smoke dried bay leaves to achieve an effect similar to marijuana!
A month or so ago I discovered this Rick Stein recipe for sardines en escabèche. According to his book "My Favourite Seafood Recipes", the dish is of Spanish origin and is also popular in France (Provençal).
The recipe calls for whole sardines, but I thought it was a lot easier and tastier to use butterflied sardines. The herbs add fragrance and the peel provides a little citrus tang. Delicious!
Sardines en Escabèche
Recipe by Rick Stein. Serves 4.
12 sardines, gutted, cleaned and heads removed
50g plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
150ml olive oil
85ml red wine vinegar
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
5cm strip of orange zest
Sprig of thyme
Sprig of rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 dried red chillies
Small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped roughly
1. Dust sardines in seasoned flour then fry them in half the olive oil for 1 minute on each side. Transfer to a shallow dish (non-reactive glass or ceramic).
2. To the frying pan add vinegar, onion, orange zest, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, garlic, chillies and salt. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
3. Add the rest of the olive oil and parsley then pour the hot marinade over the sardines.
4. When cool, transfer to the refrigerator and leave overnight (can be kept for three days).
5. Serve with a green salad, sliced tomatoes and sliced capsicum.