THE sparkle of gentle morning sunshine warms the herbs in our small kitchen garden, making the pathway around it a marvellously fragrant detour on the way to work.

Radishes, carrots and beetroots are visible in the raised beds but it is the leafy fronds of soft, summery herbs that seductively pull my attention.

I always move away from the hardier punchiness of thyme, rosemary and sage by June. They earn a year-round place in sauces and stocks but will now recede into the chorus. With mild weather, I want the feminine subtlety of grassy dill, aromatic chervil, aniseedy tarragon and the soft onion-hint of chives.

In my experience, growing your own requires less space than you think; even mediocre results feel exciting and are always usable for something, even if just flavouring a summer soup.

Choose where to buy herbs carefully. Supermarkets irritatingly sell herbs in meaningless one gram packs. I want bushy bunches, like I buy for the restaurant. The stalks are as important as the leaf: keep for stocks, soup and sauces. Farmers markets and farm shops can help, as can Asian supermarkets if it's coriander you're after.

My preference is to use herbs in partnerships. Tarragon and chervil combine famously in béarnaise sauce. The same classic partnership is delightful simply chopped and sprinkled over grilled fish. Basil and mint add a heavenly summertime zip to salad, cucumber dishes or chilled soup; chives and coriander add interest to tomato flavours.

Sea bream tartare with fresh herbs

Recipes serve four

4 fillets of sea bream, trimmed, skinned, pin bones removed

1 very fresh scallop per person (optional)

1 lime

Tabasco, to taste

Olive oil

16 basil leaves

16 coriander leaves

Small bunch watercress

1 bulb of fennel

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

1. You need very fresh sea bream, as it will be served raw for a tartare. It is recommended that you buy and use this on the same day. Cut the flesh lengthways into very fine strips, turn them 90 degrees then cut across the strips again to create very fine dice. Transfer to a non-reactive bowl eg stainless steel. Cut each scallop (if using) into three slices, like coins, then slice each into strips then into dice. Combine the scallop with the diced sea bream, stir gently but thoroughly to mix. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for now.

2. Pick the herbs from their stalks and place the leaves in a small container, covered with damp paper towel in the fridge.

3. Cut any herb sprouting form the fennel top, and reserve. Halve the fennel lengthways then cut each piece in half again to give four long wedges. From these, cut out and discard the root. Using a very sharp knife, very finely shred the fennel across the face. Place these in mixing bowl. Chop the fennel herb and scatter over the fennel. Zest the lemon over the fennel then squeeze its juice onto the fennel. Season lightly with sea salt flakes and add a dessertspoon of olive oil. Toss to marinade the fennel in the oil and lemon juice then set aside for 30 minutes.

4. Remove the bream and scallop mixture from the fridge. Add zest and juice of the lime and a dessertspoon of olive oil. Season with sea salt flakes and a few drops of Tabasco. With scissors, snip the basil and coriander into the fish mixture, saving some for decoration. Mix to combine thoroughly. Set a wide pastry cutter in the centre of the first of four serving plates and arrange a quarter of the mixture inside. With the back of a spoon, press the mix out to the edge of the ring so it is flat and evenly arranged. Repeat until all four plates are done. Arrange small leaves or very small clumps of watercress on the surface. Scatter the marinated fennel, then the reserved basil and coriander leaves, all over. Drizzle a little more olive oil over then serve at once.

Warm potato salad in a four-herb hollandaise

250g-300g new potatoes

1 bunch spring onions

Olive oil

1 dstsp red wine vinegar

Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

For the hollandaise sauce:

3 very fresh free-range egg yolks

1 packet of butter, melted and still warm

200ml white wine vinegar

4 black peppercorns

2 large shallots, diced

2-3 stems each of chervil, dill, tarragon and parsley


1. Pick the leaves from herbs, and set aside. Place the stalks in a small pan and add the sliced shallot, peppercorns and vinegar. Bring to a boil and simmer until reduced by a third then remove from heat and cool. Strain though a small sieve to collect the liquid.

2. Quarter the potatoes lengthways. Place in an oven-proof dish and drizzle with a little oil, lightly season with sea salt flakes then place in a pre-heated oven (180C) until golden brown and tender, about 20 minutes. Shake and toss the pan a few times during cooking.

3. While cooking, finely chop the herbs, mix together and place in a small ramekin or similar.

4. Meanwhile, slice spring onions into rounds. Upon removing the potatoes from the oven, stir in the spring onions while the potatoes and the tray are hot. Also, sprinkle in the red wine vinegar and toss around then cover the tray loosely with tin foil.

5. Make the hollandaise sauce now, while the potatoes are still hot. Place egg yolk in a medium bowl and set it over hot (not boiling) water. Whisk until doubled in volume and at ribbon stage. Whisking all the time, slowly pour in the melted butter, stopping before you reach the milky solids at the bottom of the butter. Add salt to taste and the vinegar reduction.

6. Transfer potatoes to a serving bowl. Sprinkle in the chopped herbs then add enough hollandaise sauce to coat evenly.

Geoffrey Smeddle is chef patron of The Peat Inn, by St Andrews, Fife, KY15 5LH 01334 840206