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Today is the first day of the rest of my life – my life without store-bought salad dressings, that is. Not that I haven’t ever made my own salad dressings before… but they were always a luxury, something you did for a special dish that called for it, or when you were really motivated, or found an irresistible recipe (like this one, which I will always go to for an extra-indulgent special occasion dressing – at least until I find something better, which may very well never happen).

But today, in the early hot days of summer, as I was trying to restore order to the jungle that I returned to after 10 days away from my newly planted vegetable garden, I saw herbs gone wild, overflowing their raised beds. I remembered last year, when I planted all these lovely culinary treasures and then let them go to seed – only to find myself needing fresh oregano or fresh thyme when I should have had it, and didn’t. This is not going to happen to me again, I thought; I am going to harvest and preserve this stuff if it kills me.

But it’s only May! Ok, June 1st. But the specter of being functionally herb-less in the middle of summer haunted me. The tarragon has been flourishing there in the back of the garden since March, and all I’ve done is pinched off a few leaves to garnish a salad – once. Am I going to let these $3 plants pay for themselves this year, or not?

So right now in my kitchen, there is an alarmingly large pile of oregano drying on 4 paper towels, waiting to be picked over and frozen. The tarragon plant was even scarier – two feet high and almost as thick, waving happily in the breeze. For some reason, that one screamed out “salad dressing.” Maybe because I once had a bottle of tarragon vinegar that I never did much with and still feel I tragically wasted. Maybe because my greens are growing faster than I can eat them, and the selection of bottled dressings in the fridge is getting really depressing, and wholly unworthy of the endless bounty of melt-in-your mouth fresh lettuce. So after harvesting two armfuls of 8-inch long tarragon clippings, I dove into the recipe books. Martha Stewart whetted my appetite with a lovely-sounding herb vinaigrette, but I didn’t have a shallot handy (though I regret that, because I often do and I think they’re an overlooked staple), nor sherry vinegar. Silly me. The Mediterannean Herb Cookbook suggested a dreamy-sounding creamy yogurt dressing, but alas, no yogurt (we usually have tons, but we just got back from Europe and the fridge is still empty… an odd sight).

Time to improvise. After a quick visit to Google to look at basic dressings and a reference back to Martha for quantity tips on the extras (sea salt, garlic), here is what I ended up throwing together, and BOY IS IT GOOD drizzled over a salad of just-picked spinach, mesclun mix, baby romaine lettuce, radishes, green onion, chopped walnuts and sunflower seeds. I’m full.

Tarragon Vinaigrette

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

3/4 cup olive oil (I went for the good stuff, a bottle from Hania, Crete – it is strong though – and expensive – so I would consider diluting half of it with standard EVOO next time)

1 large clove garlic, minced

generous grind of fresh black pepper

1 tsp sea salt

1 heaping Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon

1 tsp chopped fresh chives

Whisk together ingredients in a small bowl. Toss with fresh greens and enjoy!

Does it get any easier than that? Hardly. This recipe makes 1 cup of delicious summery dressing, which is plenty more than 1 serving so I have a nice little jar left over to use for the rest of the week. That gives me just enough time to whip up something else, maybe using some of the mint we planted last month or a bit of the forest of chives in my rock garden. Suddenly, there’s just no excuse for buying bottled dressings at the store. Except maybe just one for backup – a nice Newman’s Balsamic or something basic like that…

I should note that this recipe used up only the teeniest, tiniest fraction of the mountain of tarragon I hacked out of the garden today. But in my recipe research, I read that tarragon freezes ridiculously easily, and can just as easily be hung up to dry – and the dried stuff you buy in a jar apparently loses its taste within a year, so mine must want to be replaced. So I’m off to find some twine with which to string up my tarragon bounty. Who needs to spend $5 for a tiny spice bottle at the store when there are more herbs in the garden than you can shake a stick at?

 

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