1.16.2006

Oregano, who knew?

I never gave oregano much thought. I might dump some dried oregano in a pasta sauce if I had some around. If not, I’d rely on my trusty and dusty Italian Seasoning, the mysterious and ubiquitous blend of oregano, thyme and who knows what else is in there. Oregano did its Italian flavoring thing, but never really made an impression on me or my mouth.

About a month ago, I made Martha Stewart’s Escarole and Meatball Soup for a Sunday night dinner. Since I was determined to make the soup just like Martha, I bought both three ingredients I had never used before: escarole, dried currants and fresh oregano.

The soup came out pretty good, though next time I will go to the extra effort of making my own chicken broth since the canned broth I used was too salty. The best part of the soup was getting two eye-opening new green ingredients into my refrigerator: escarole and fresh oregano.

I’m continuing to experiment with winter leafy greens like escarole, kale and mustard greens, but I’m already loyal to fresh oregano. After using the fresh oregano in the soup and then in a stew, I wanted to use up the rest of the oregano before it dired out. Last night, reminded of an episode of Daisy Cooks where she used fresh oregano on a whole chicken, I made Mark Bittman’s Puerto Rican Style Pork. I coated the pork join with a paste of onion, garlic, fresh oregano, salt, pepper and vinegar over night and then I roasted it.

I expected that the pork would taste Italian, since I had only associated oregano with Italian cooking. I also thought that the pungent spice paste would burn during the long roasting time, leaving the bitterness of burned garlic.

I was wrong. The moist meat had a smoky, but not charred taste. The oregano – fresh and pulled from its Italian seasoning sisters -- contributed an herbal, summer-y edge that somehow penetrated deep into the meat.

I under-cooked the meat though. I was so worried about drying out the outside that the inside near the bone was too pink to eat. R* and I and our guest still had fun hacking into the roast with a cleaver like the recipe said to do.

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