Mint in Italian cooking. Yes, I said mint, and yes, in Italian cooking. Problem is that in America “mint” is usually a taste that is associated with toothpaste, mouthwash, gum, breath fresheners and you can add to the list if you please. It is ultra concentrated and exaggerated. So when we aren’t refreshing our mouths in this super-duper minty form we are trained to think that the taste of mint in green ice cream, the center of chocolaty candies and in popular coffee shops is, in fact, the taste of mint. Contrary, the mint family, also known as Lamiaceae or Labiatae has relatives that include herbs like basil, rosemary, and oregano. And in Italian cooking, believe it or not, it is a universal ingredient, grown and used in home kitchens, as well as restaurants. There isn’t even one region that can be pinpointed as using this special herb more since it is routinely used in a variety of ways in Rome, Umbria, Marche, Piedmont, Sicily, Calabria, Tuscany, Venice and the list goes on and on from tippy top to toe of the boot.
Mint’s leaves actually have a less concentrated flavor and are very subtle. As you know, they are usually classified as refreshing and cool and this is correct, just please don’t visualize your favorite chewing gum! In Italy, I have always enjoyed mint in my eggplant after the meat course at mezzogiorno meals. Mint is commonly used with basil and parsley in Italy. Mint is also a perfect complement to rich dishes as well as acidic dishes and it is indigenous to the Mediterranean. In Italy, mint grow like weeds!
So give mint a chance. It is an endlessly versatile herb that is easy-to-grow. If you check out our recipe this week you will see the difference in taste. Put aside your thoughts of mint only being a garnish and realize that this herb has a larger fate than just being pushed aside on used plates.
Donna Picciocchi, Editor