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Fresh summer herbs take center stage

Published Sep. 29, 2005

This is a time I dream about. There are so many fresh herbs that it seems imperative to use them at almost every meal.

One of my favorite ways to take advantage of this abundance is to mix large quantities of herbs with hot pasta and a simple base of olive oil and garlic.

The most reliable backbone of the herb mixture is usually parsley or basil because they can be used in large quantities without overwhelming the flavor of the dish; also, they are widely available.

Chervil, a delicious and underrated herb that tends to be expensive and even difficult to find because it is so fragile, is great as a supporting character here, as are dill, marjoram, mint and oregano.

More powerful herbs, such as thyme, sage, tarragon and rosemary, should be used more sparingly. A teaspoon, or at most a tablespoon, is plenty, otherwise they can steal the show.

Therefore, for example, you might combine a half cup each of parsley and basil, a quarter cup of dill and a teaspoon of thyme and tarragon or a third cup each of parsley, chervil and marjoram with some rosemary.

Measurements need not be exact, either for individual herbs or for the total amount. This is not brain surgery but simply combining a few good, fresh, strong-flavored ingredients that are found at their peak only for the next few months. When herbs are truly fresh and grown outdoors, there is a kind of mysterious process in which their distinctive personalities are somehow sublimated to create a wonderfully perfumed synthesis.

I like to add a little butter to the mix, mostly for creaminess, but you can also finish the dish with a bit of olive oil or with some of the water in which the pasta cooked.

Linguine with Fresh Herbs

\ cup olive oil, or more to taste

1 teaspoon minced garlic

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup or more mixed herbs, such as parsley, dill, chervil, basil, tarragon, thyme, oregano, marjoram or mint

1 tablespoon butter, optional

1 pound linguine or other long pasta.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Combine olive oil and garlic in a small saucepan and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook gently just until the garlic begins to color, then remove from the heat. Meanwhile, wash and mince the herbs. Place them in a bowl large enough to hold the pasta. Cut the butter into bits, if you're using it, and add it to the bowl.

Salt water and cook pasta until tender but not mushy. Reserve { cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain pasta and toss with herbs and reserved olive oil-garlic mixture. Add a little more olive oil or some of the pasta water if the mixture seems dry. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Yield: 3-4 servings. Preparation time: 30 minutes or less.