Throughout history and literature, rosemary (rosmarino, in Italian) has been associated with a variety of qualities and virtues, and inspired a host of poetic associations. In ancient mythology, the nine muses and Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, are often depicted with rosemary in their hands. Carried by wedding couples as a sign of love and fidelity, rosemary is also a symbol friendship and loyalty. Through the ages, this aromatic herb has been linked with memory and remembrance; in ancient times, a sprig was often tossed into the coffin to ensure that the deceased would not be forgotten. In the Middle Ages, it was common to keep some sprigs under the pillow to chase away bad dreams. To this day, this herb’s particularly pure and refreshing scent makes it a popular element in various health and beauty products. In addition to this long and colorful legacy, rosemary has been an important ingredient of Mediterranean cuisine for centuries.
A perennial plant from the Lamiaceae family, rosmarino is a familiar sight in the Italian countryside, growing in the wild throughout Italy and the rest of the Mediterranean regions. The botanical name, Rosmarinus officinalis, is derived from the old Latin term meaning “dew of the sea,” probably referring to its pale blue flowers and the fact that it often grows near the sea. The fresh leaves – thin and spiky, like evergreen needles – have a particularly potent fragrance and flavor, and are therefore preferable to use whenever possible.
Rosemary is a very popular herb in Italian cooking, in which it is often used in vegetable preparations – particularly, roasted potatoes. It is virtually impossible for Italians to cook roasted potatoes without rosmarino; though other vegetables, such as mushrooms, as well as cannellini beans are enhanced by this herb, too. Rosemary is one of the five herbs comprising the bouquet garni – the bundle of fresh herbs used in stocks and stews. Unlike many other aromatic herbs, rosemary does not lose its flavor by long cooking. Another notable use of rosemary – alone or with other herbs – is to aromatize olive oil.
Finally, rosemary is great with all kinds of grilled and roasted meats and fish – and especially poultry. When grilling, it’s a great idea to first marinate the meat in rosemary, sage, bay leaves, thyme, pepper and olive oil; then, while cooking, sprinkle rosemary leaves and branches directly on the glowing charcoals. The wonderful aroma of the burning herb will permeate whatever you are grilling.