March is National Nutrition Month and a great time to feature the Origanum genus since they have the highest antioxidant activity of any of the herbs – 20 times higher than other herbs – plus 19 chemicals with antibacterial action and an anti-inflammatory for sore muscles and bruises.
The Origanum genus contains over 50 species including plant heights varying from 6 inches to two feet and flower colors including white, pink and purple. Originally native to Portugal, it found its way into the cuisine of Greece, Italy and even America as well as being used in nosegays and as protectants from diseases. These plants love the sun and are fairly un-fussy plants in the garden, but also do well in winter container gardens. Marjoram may be propagated from seed, but most oreganos do not come true from seed, especially with regard to flavor, so division or propagation from cuttings is best for them. Harvest may begin when plants are 6 inches high and in fact an early harvest may produce an extra harvest later.
Oreganos are aromatic, herbaceous perennials which have the characteristic square stems of the mint family plus the typical tubular flower spikes which attract bees and butterflies, but its strong, spicy flavor is what makes it one of the three essential herbs for Mediterranean cooking. Good culinary oregano has a spicy fragrance and a hot, peppery flavor with a hint of clove and balsam and can be used fresh or dried. When you taste a leaf, it should bite back with a sharp and intense sensation. The best culinary oreganos are Greek oregano, Origanum vulgare hirtum, the real deal with a strong, biting flavor and Italian oregano, Origanum x majoricum, which combines the pungency of Greek oregano with the sweetness of marjoram. Both have small, white flowers, which is indicative of the best tasting oreganos. Harvest the leaves as you need them just before the flowers bloom for the best flavor. Use fresh or hang to dry as dried oregano keeps its flavor well in storage. It may also be frozen by placing sprigs in a zippered plastic bag and pressing to remove as much air as possible. The dish most associated with oregano is pizza, but it actually mingles well with a large number of foods including roasted meat, poultry, marinated vegetables, potatoes, and cheese and egg combinations. For an elegant appetizer, carefully grill thick slices of provolone sprinkled with oregano and when it is warm and starts to melt, spread it on crusty fresh bread. It also may be used in any Mexican dishes such as salsa or chili as well as Italian recipes. Another great way to use oregano is to make a basting brush with bunches of the stalks including leaves and flowers to brush olive oil on grilling meats, fish and vegetables.
Marjoram (Origanum majorana) is one of the western world’s most important culinary herbs. Its sweet and spicy taste and aroma is very versatile as it may be used in a wide variety of dishes from savories to sweets, even tea. As a culinary herb, marjoram blends well with other seasonings such as bay, garlic, onion, thyme and basil and is one of the three essential herbs in Italian cooking. It is useful in almost any dish although it has an affinity with beans, but is also excellent with other vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, cabbage and zucchini, but especially corn. Try adding some to your corn bread or muffin recipe. Add to sauces, soups, casseroles, meats, poultry and desserts. Since the flavor is delicate, marjoram is usually added towards the end of cooking or an additional bit more is added before serving to reinforce the flavor. It can also be used in herbed butters and flavored oils and vinegars. Marjoram tea which is gently fragrant has been used medicinally for its antioxidant and anti-fungal properties as well as for its flavor in England before the import of true tea.
You can substitute marjoram for oregano and vice versa,
but not in equal quantities.
Always use the same form of the herb (fresh, dried, etc).
When using oregano in place of marjoram,
use a little less oregano;
when using marjoram instead of oregano,
use a little more marjoram or add some thyme
1 clove garlic
1 slice candied ginger
2Tbs pine nuts
40 pitted black olives
1Tbs chopped fresh oregano
1/4c olive oil
In food processor chop garlic, ginger, anchovies and nuts for 1 minute or until minced. Add olives, oregano and capers and process another 30 seconds. Keep the motor running and slowly add olive oil and process until oil is incorporated. Spoon mixture into airtight container and cover tightly. Store in refrigerator up to 5 days or in freezer up to 3 months.
MEDITERRANEAN GARLIC BREAD
1/4c minced sun-dried tomatoes
1/2c olive oil
6 cloves minced garlic
1 Tbs dried oregano
1/2c grated parmesan cheese
12 slices rustic bread
Combine the sun-dried tomatoes, oil, garlic, oregano and parmesan cheese and blend well. Either toast the bread and spoon the mixture onto each slice, or spoon it onto the slices, stack and wrap in foil then bake for 20-25 mins at 350 degrees until hot.
1 can peach halves
3Tbs fresh lemon juice
12 macaroon cookies
1 tsp chopped fresh sweet marjoram
1/2 cup raspberry jam
6 sprigs sweet marjoram (for garnish)
Preheat oven broiler and adjust rack to highest level. Brush each peach half with about 1 tsp lemon juice, place, cut side up, on greased baking sheet, set aside. In food processor, chop cookies, butter and sweet marjoram together, about 30 seconds or until combined. Divide crumbs and spoon into peach halves. Bake peaches in preheated oven for 2 to 4 minutes, or until lightly browned. Meanwhile, heat jam in microwave on high 30 seconds, or until liquid. Spoon 2Tbs hot jam onto dessert plates, top with hot peach half and garnish with a sprig of marjoram.
In a large skillet, sauté the following ingredients in 3 T. butter until tender and lightly browned:
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 6-8" zucchini, sliced
Butter a 1/2 qt. casserole dish and toast 6 slices of whole grain bread. Lightly butter the toast & cut 5 slices into 1/2" cubes. Place a layer of bread cubes into the casserole, using 1/2 the cubes. Spread half the mushroom mixture on top. Sprinkle with 1tsp dried marjoram. Cover with a layer of thinly sliced Swiss cheese. Top with remaining cubes, and the rest of mushroom mixture. Sprinkle with another 1tsp marjoram.
In same skillet, heat 1 c. milk, add 1 can cream of mushroom soup, a few turns of freshly ground pepper, a dash of cayenne pepper, and mix well. Pour soup over casserole. Use 6th piece of toast to make crumbs for the top. Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly around the edges, about 45 minutes.
". . . I have given you all things even as the green herbs."