Archives for posts with tag: Heidi Swanson

Artemisia dracunculus. The name conjures up mythical realms. Kingdoms filled with swirling mists, ancient turreted castles perched atop snowy peaks, emerald-green enchanted forests, fire-breathing flame-wreathed dragons. Worlds worthy of the Game of Thrones.

The plant however with its delicate blade-like green leaves does more than just conjure up mythical fantasies, it works magic in the harsh reality of the modern day kitchen.

tarragon sprig

If you are not already a lover of tarragon then now is the time to enchant yourself and dash out and buy a plant – or at the very least buy a plastic bag of tarragon from the herb section of your supermarket. Well if you can find it, that is.

You’ll never regret planting tarragon in your garden – every spring it reliably reappears pushing new green shoots up through the soil regardless of whether you have watered or not. And then until fairly late into winter you’ll have a steady supply of flavour on your doorstep.

Ever since I first had a tarragon plant I’ve had dreams of making a dish using the four  fines herbes but have never had much luck growing chervil, nor parsley for that matter. I think chervil requires just a little more care than I am ever able to give a plant. Although as I write this I wonder if we have any chervil seeds and if I should quickly go out into the garden and plant them.

I haven’t actually used tarragon in a very classic way. For example I’ve never in my life made a Béarnaise sauce. For many years the only way I used tarragon was stuffed into the cavity of  a chicken done the Nico Ladenis way – with honey and black pepper. I believed that recipe alone was the reason to have a never-ending supply of tarragon.

But I do keep wondering how else I can put my bountiful supply to good use. I’ve made Heidi Swanson’s tarragon oil a couple of times, most recently as part of a trio of potions for Scarlet Bennett’s creative challenge. Tarragon oil is a versatile and essential addition to any grocery cupboard. Make yourself a batch – you won’t be sorry. Lately I’ve been a bit obsessed with pairing tarragon with lovage as in green eggs and frittata. I’ve made tarragon tempura – and lovage tempura too. Tarragon leaves brighten up a jug of iced water and the stalks make a good tea. I’m sipping some as I write.

On Sunday I served antipasti from Super Sconto to our Allaboutwriting ‘Secret of Story’ participants. I bought some bocconcini and I thought I’d mix them with baby tomatoes in a salad but I really needed some basil, or pesto which I didn’t have. I hate buying basil and  pesto but our basil is nowhere near pickable yet. I stood staring out at the vegetable garden and the tiny basil plants wondering what else we had in the garden that could add a little Italian flavour – origanum and rosemary certainly could. I could make a nice olive oil dressing of course. But I had my heart set on pesto. Mmmm. Could I make a tarragon pesto, I wondered?

I grabbed the scissors and in no time at all I was whipping up a batch of tarragon pesto. Inspired by the Nico Ladenis chicken recipe, not so very Italian after all…

Tarragon pesto with honey and black pepper


  • 100g tarragon leaves (stripped from their stalks)
  • 250 ml olive oil
  • 135 grams flaked almonds
  • 30 grams honey
  • 4 smallish cloves fresh garlic (5 grams)
  • 5 grams coarsely grated black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


Blend the whole lot together but don’t over-process.

Use the tarragon pesto:

  • to enliven a tomato and mozzarella salad
  • as a  pasta sauce
  • as a filling in an omelet
  • over baked potatoes
  • mix with mayonnaise and serve with cold chicken
  • stirred into a soup
  • with sliced cheese, cold meat and rocket for lunch

tarragon pesto 2

Next up I’ll be making tarkhun, tarragon cake, potica, tarragon ice cream and tarragon jelly. Pity it is already dark or I’d be out in the garden harvesting leaves.


I’ve had a lot of fun lately taking  part in the truly creative (I really am envious!), Scarlet Bennett’s thirty-day creative challenge. I started halfway through, have  barely managed to deliver something creative even every second day and some of my contributions have been extremely modest, but it has been a delight and a joy.  And motivating too. I’m addicted. I’ve loved seeing – and hearing – the results of the daily creative activities that have been produced 10 000 km away in Canberra. Every morning I’ve scrambled to do something, anything, even vaguely creative, before Scarlet’s blog posting deadline of 8 pm Canberra time/11 am Johannesburg time – and so breakfast has ended up being the creative time of the day for me. I have been inspired by the group and their wide ranging creative activities and although I won’t be composing any music or attempting a drawing I might just take a leaf from opera singer and strange bedfellow, Kanen Breen’s book and get out a needle and thread or a bottle of nail polish one of these days.

Here’s a round up of my kitchen fun and games, eats and drinks:

Day 14: Breakfast Puff – an old favourite, from a previous life, when I was the lucky recipient of a subscription to US Gourmet magazine from my then mother-in-law

Day 16:  Three potions – tarragon oil, black pepper syrup, lavender syrup

Day 18: Tropical fruit and black pepper ice cream breakfast. Also from a previous life and from US Gourmet magazine c. 1993

Day 20: Swiss chard muffins – Swiss chard and sage from the garden, spiked with black pepper syrup from day 16

Day 21: Passionfruit cordial and carrot, clementine, mint and ginger juice

(With thanks to Scarlet for making the pictures look so good!)

The most fun of the week was the morning I spent making the potions. I first came across  a recipe for tarragon oil on Heidi Swanson’s wonderful blog, 101 Cookbooks. I’ve never made it exactly as she does since we somehow seem to be incapable of growing parsley but our tarragon is a rewarding and reliable plant that comes up year after year. You can make the oil with the first leaves that appear in spring  or with the last leaves of the season. A great way to preserve tarragon – and you’ll never countenance using dried tarragon again.

Tarragon oil

Take equal quantities of tarragon and olive oil. Blanch the tarragon leaves in boiling salted water,  refresh in ice water and squeeze dry. Purée the tarragon with the olive oil using  an immersion blender. Allow to stand for an hour or so and then strain through a fine sieve. Store in the fridge but bring to room temperature  to serve.

Use the tarragon oil:

  • In simple salad dressings – combine with black pepper syrup and freshly squeezed lemon juice and toss with  simple salad greens.
  • Drizzled over roasted beetroot and goat’s cheese with black pepper syrup
  • Added to savoury muffins
  • In egg dishes
  • As a marinade for chicken  – with the black peppercorn syrup

Black pepper syrup

Combine 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons of crushed black pepper. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for about half an hour. Cool, strain and store in the fridge. Use the stained black pepper kernels in any dish that calls for crushed black pepper.

Has been known to:

  • Combine exceptionally well with tarragon oil
  • Invigorate the childhood favourite, macaroni cheese
  • Add a certain je ne sais quoi to a Swiss chard, sage and spring onion fritatta