By Emily J. Weitz
Few places inspire a chef quite like an herb garden, with its pungent aromas promising to bring freshness to any dish. At Bridge Gardens, a Peconic Land Trust property in Bridgehampton, the kitchen is always in use, and the gardens brim with seasonal flavors. Rick Bogusch, the garden manager, has embraced that garden-to-table connection, and you can taste it.
This week, Bogusch will kick off a series of conversations with experts on a range of topics relating to the gardens. The first conversation will take place this Sunday, March 3 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Bridgehampton Community House, with subsequent lectures given at Bridge Gardens. This Sunday’s discussion will focus on cooking with herbs, and Bogusch will share wisdom from both the gardens and the kitchen, as well as recipes and tips.
“One of our main areas of concentration in our programs is growing things in the garden and harvesting them and using them,” says Bogusch. “We want to be an outdoor classroom, a model of sustainability for the community.”
Garden-to-table cooking is a simple way that people can harness their own power and become more sustainable, Bogusch believes.
“By growing your own food, you’re reducing the distance that food travels from miles to yards,” he says. “That reduces your carbon footprint. And the more individuals that do that, the better.”
In his talk, Bogusch will focus on the two basic families of herbs that are grown at Bridge Gardens, which encompass a surprising diversity of species.
“We’ll talk about the mint family and the parsley family,” says Bogusch.
Examples of the mint family include mint, basil, thyme, lavender, and marjoram. In the parsley family are parsley, dill, cumin, caraway, and cilantro.
“Some of these herbs we grow in pots, and many are planted in the earth in our herb and vegetable gardens,” he says. “Many, like basil, are annuals, so in early spring we’ll put out two dozen basil plants of different varieties. We create a pleasing array.”
The herb garden at Bridge Gardens is mostly just for display and enjoyment, and the herbs they use for cooking are grown in the vegetable garden in rows.
“Walking into the herb garden,” says Bogusch, “you are overwhelmed by the sense of smell, the colors, and the textures. The herb garden is full of bees and other insects, so the sound is also powerful.”
Bogusch struggles to choose a favorite herb that he uses in his cooking.
“This time of year, I’m eating a lot of dried herbs, like sage and rosemary,” he says. “But in the summertime, in a Caprese salad, fresh basil is a key ingredient.”
He cooks lots of pesto with the wide variety of basil, and also uses herbs and spices that come from Asia for sauces, powders and dips. Some of these herbs are also touted for their medicinal value.
“Fennel tea is a digestive aid,” he says, “and parsley is a diarrhetic. These plants have been used since Egyptian times. Coriander seeds were found in King Tut’s tomb, and cultivated caraway seeds have been found from Neolithic times. They were the basis of modern medicine, and the search for herbs and spices is the reason we’re here. It’s how the New World was discovered.”
All of the conversations in the series will relate to reducing the carbon footprint, covering issues from storm water management to sustainable turf management to green living in and around the home. But this is arguably one of the most enjoyable ways to protect the planet, because it tastes so good.
Roasted Pumpkin Seed Dip from the Garden
2 cups green, hulled pumpkin seeds
1 cup finely chopped red onion
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. chopped oregano
2 tsp. chopped cilantro
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
3-4 tbs. lemon juice
½ cup chicken stock
Sea salt to taste
In a heavy skillet, heat the pumpkin seeds over medium heat until they begin to pop and brown, about 10 minutes. Stir so they don’t burn.
Cool and place in food processor, process to a fine meal. Pour the meal into a large bowl and add onion, garlic, oregano, cilantro, and peppers, stirring well.
Add lemon juice gradually, to taste, then add chicken stock, thinning dip to desired consistency. Add salt to taste. Serve with jicama chips.