I love playing with fresh herbs from the garden. Often of a morning at this time of year, you will find me standing at the edge of my herb garden, surveying the bounty. I’ll probably be rubbing my hands together and thinking, “what can I do with you today, my pretties?” Figuratively, of course – not in a the Wicked Witch of the West kind of way and certainly not accompanied by sinister cackling. But, you get the picture – me, herbs, cooking contemplation.
So, when I spotted Tessa Kiros’ recipe for sale aromatico – aromatic salt – in her fabulous book, Twelve: A Tuscan Cookbook, I had to gather up the herbs and make my own. However, Kiros’ version mixed lots and lots of juicy garlic pieces with salt. That didn’t seem the best idea to me – for two reasons. Firstly, when garlic is mixed with salt, it can become magically transformed into paste – as it does in my mortar when bashed with the pestle. And, secondly, that much garlic can be overpowering – masking all the other aromatics. So, I came up with a drier, herbier version. It worked!
Sale Aromatico (Aromatic Salt)
This salt is simply a mixture of tiny fragments of aromatics and flaky salt. However, some ingredients are left whole to infuse the salt. Preparation takes place one day before you assemble all the ingredients, plus a few days more to let the flavors meld before use.
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 cup flaked sea salt, such as Maldon
- 3 sprigs of fresh sage
- 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- Zest from 1 lemon
- 1/4 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 dried bay leaf
First, peel your garlic clove and add whole to the salt in a sealed container. Store in a cool dark place for for one day, shaking it occasionally to distribute the garlic scent throughout the salt. Also on day one, clean and shake dry your fresh rosemary and sage, laying them on clean kitchen paper towels to let them partly dry while the garlic is infusing. Don’t worry if they look like they are wilting the next day – this is what they are supposed to do. During the day, turn the herbs whenever you think of it to ensure even drying.
Shortly before you make the aromatic salt, clean and dry your lemon and then zest. Lay the zest out on a small plate and let air dry for a short while, until it looks ever so slightly dry. Timing, of course, depends on the size of your zest strips, the ambient temperature and air humidity.
When you are ready to mix up the aromatic salt, remove and discard the garlic clove from the salt. The salt should have a nice garlicky smell, but by discarding the garlic, the herbs will not have to compete with such a strong flavor. Strip the leaves from the now semi-dried rosemary and remove any tough stems from the sage – place these herbs along with the slightly dried lemon zest into your blender (or handy Moulinex) and process on and off until the pieces are very, very small, or perhaps tiny is a better term. It will be a small amount – about one or two tablespoons worth.
In a bowl, add the finely chopped herbs and lemon with the crushed red pepper, the ground black pepper and mix in the garlic-infused salt. The bay leaf should be left whole, but crushed with your hand to release its scent before adding to the salt mixture.
Scoop the aromatic salt mixture back into its container and seal. Leave it in a cool, dark place for a few days before using. Keep it tightly sealed when not in use.
We tried it with roast chicken, sprinkling a little into the cavity before roasting, which seasoned the bird deliciously. But, also it is said to be good sprinkled on grilled fish, meats, vegetables. It might even be nice in a soup or stew – but I’ll have to wait until the cooler months to test that!