Friday, September 18, 2015

Oregano: The Unsung Herb

 Oregano is dainty, easy-going, and joyful. Even so, behind her back, people whisper. 
"Poor thing," they say. "She just can't get ahead." 
A few folks think she's stuck up, the kind of herb that forms cliques: "She only invites tomatoes to her parties," says cilantro. "Really, she ought to marry a tomato," says sage.
This unkind gossip took hold for a strange (but ironic) reason. She is known as the "Italian Herb," mainly because she brings out the best in tomato-based recipes (and she gets punished for this skill). Not that she'd ever think of it as punishment. No, oregano loves pizza, spaghetti, anything with pasta--but she also loves Greek cuisine. Heck, she loves everything and everyone. She is a good ole gal, happy to be here.

Oregano isn't an ordinary herb. For one thing, she has a Doppelganger--Marjoram is a sweeter, less potent version of oregano, and it was most likely brought to the UK from Greece, where legends about her endure.
The ancients placed a pot of oregano near the front door to repel danger. Its reputation as a protective herb may have some validity, because she is reputed to have germ killing and antioxidant properties. Maybe she does. Maybe she doesn't.
But her flavor is undeniable.

Yes, she is much more than a pizza topping. 

Oregano pairs well with the usual suspects: tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, olive oil, and Italian dishes. She adds lovely notes to poultry, fish, lamb, beef, and sausages. Despite her faintly sweet essence, she doesn't play well with desserts (who knows? Someone, somewhere--maybe you!--may invent the perfect oregano cake). I've seldom seen oregano paired with cilantro, though I can't find a documented reason. (If you know of a pairing, will you share it?)

 In the garden, oregano is a wonderful companion for bell peppers and tomatoes--they will look out for each other. You'll find other companions HERE.

Oregano is never bitchy, nor is she prideful. She is confident in her abilities, and flat-out loves to make your meal enjoyable. A lot of herbs would cry if they were stereotyped, but you won't find oregano boo-hooing into her apron. No, ma'am. She truly enjoys her role on pizzas and in Italian dishes. 

If you're in a hurry, make tortilla "pizzas." While your skillet heats, brush each tortilla with olive oil. Place one tortilla in the skillet. Sprinkle shredded Mexican cheese (add chopped green onions, sliced cherry tomatoes, and bits of oregano). Salt and pepper. Add two more tortillas, pausing to repeat the above process, adding layers of cheese, vegetables, and oregano. Cook over medium high heat until the cheese melts and the tortillas are brown and crispy.

Oregano is the magic ingredient for a tomato tart. 

Early Fall Tomato Tart
1 package refrigerated pizza dough (I used Pillbury)
1 yellow heirloom tomato
1 red homegrown tomato
1 small container grape tomatoes
1-1/4 cups ricotta cheese (I used Galbani)
garlic salt, Tabasco, onion salt
pancetta (heaping 1/4 cup--I used Boar's Head)
1/4 cup chopped green onion
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
fresh basil, sage, dill, and oregano
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Pan-fry the pancetta just enough to render a little fat--don't over cook, because it will be a topping for your tart and could burn while it bakes in the oven. Remove pizza dough from container and place on Pam-sprayed cookie sheet. You can roll the dough, if you like, or shape it. Into a small bowl, add 1 1/4 cups ricotta cheese (really, you need to eyeball this--add enough ricotta to cover the pizza dough; but don't goop it up). Season the ricotta with garlic salt, onion salt, Tabasco, pepper, chopped herbs, and sea salt. Mix well. Feel free to add slivered herbs, citrus zest, or whatever strikes your fancy. 
Slice tomatoes and place then on paper towels. Salt slices on both sides.
Spread ricotta mixture over the dough. Arrange tomatoes on the ricotta. Sprinkle green onions, herbs, and pancetta over the tomatoes and ricotta. Salt and pepper. Bake until browned, about 18 minutes.
Garnish with herbs.

Oregano is like an acting coach who grooms and shapes tomato starlets; she's always in the background, never complaining, thrilled to pieces that she brought out the tomato's finest qualities. 

In the garden, the herbs and vegetables make clucking noises. Poor, old oregano. Doomed to be overlooked and overshadowed by thyme and basil, the rock stars of the herb world. 
Oregano ignores the gossip. She just smiles--and it's a genuine smile. She would hate being a rock star herb. Sure, she has other talents, and she enjoys them for the right reasons.

Oregano's philosophy is simple: 
Do what you love and love what you do, and nothing else matters.

Growing Oregano via Southern Living
The Herb Series at Rattlebridge Farm


  1. I so enjoy when you wax-poetic about herbs :) Your Early Fall Tomato Tart is a thing of beauty! Hope you have a wonderful weekend. ♥

  2. Thank you for sharing your knowledge of oregano with us, Michael Lee. The tortilla pizza looks so easy, colorful and fresh. The Fall tomato tart is equally gorgeous, but more sophisticated in flavor and appearance. Hmmmm I think I'll go pick some sprigs of oregano and get cooking!

  3. I can't say it any better than Mary just did. Your writing is so beautiful, and enjoyable. Loved this!

  4. I add fresh oregano and chives to my scrambled eggs. So fresh, herby and delicious! Thanks for the posting.

  5. I so enjoy the way you write! I have a large patch of oregano that needs to be put to good use. Thanks

  6. What a great post - I love oregano and like to put it in the hamburger meat when I am making tacos - they are so good..
    I am going to make this beautiful tart - thanks so much for the recipe.
    Have a great first week of Fall.

  7. Thanks for sharing about oregano and the wonderful tomato tart recipe.
    Have a nice Sunday.
    Julie @ Julie's Lifestyle

  8. I love this! Your writing is so interesting and entertaining. I love the idea of the small pizzas and the tart looks and sounds divine. Thanks so much for sharing!


  9. Great post - very fond of oregano so I'll sing her praises with you - I put her with lemon juice to marinate chicken thighs which are then great on the BBQ or under the grill. Your neighbour at Sundays Down Under link party this week.

  10. Oregano is my go to herb for almost all my cooking. I'm greek of course! ;)

  11. What an enchanting tale of oregano Michael Lee~ I am guilty of never using the fresh variety, and showing proper respect for her versatility. I LOVE your herb series, and your tomato tart is a thing of beauty! Love the skillet quesadilla stack too, for a quick and delicious meal, thanks~

  12. Beautiful, I will feature today at Home Sweet Home!