The Herb of the Month for June is Pepper Piper nigrum.
This wonderful herb which does so much to enliven our taste buds is a tropical plant that originated in Sri Lanka and India. From there it has moved around the globe being planted in a variety of hot and humid tropical climes. Each plant has pendulous flower spikes which could be up to 100 flowers, and once pollinated become fruit or peppercorns of a yellowish red color. To date, Vietnam is the top producer of black pepper.
It has been valued as a culinary and medicinal herb used by the ancient Greeks, Europeans, Asians, and Ayurvedic healers. Today’s herbalists also appreciate ancient healing uses from digestive issues to coughs and colds. The flavor is best released when the peppercorns are freshly ground.
It has a subtle taste that makes it a valuable addition to many dishes in that it blends well with other seasonings. Black pepper also mellows when it is cooked and can be the surprise ingredient in desserts.
Black pepper has components that are antioxidants, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory. Piperine is a key alkaloid of black pepper. Today’s research indicates that this component can assist in cognitive brain function, the absorption of nutrients, and gastrointestinal functions.
There was a time when pepper was rare and was valued at “its weight in gold” and also used as currency. When the Visigoths invaded Rome in A.D. 408, peppercorns were a highly valued part of the ransom for this city.
Peppercorns come in black, white, and green, all depending on when the peppercorn is picked, dried, or brined. Pink peppercorns are from another family.
. ~~ Reni Erskine
Pasta Cacio e Pepe (or Pasta with cheese and pepper)
- 1 pound spaghetti pasta
- 4 Tablespoons or more of virgin olive oil for its fruity flavor
- 2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper to bring out its full flavor
- 1 cup grated Romano
- ¾ cup grated Cacio de Roma a mild sheep’s milk cheese, or its equivalent
- 1-2 Tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
- 1 small clove garlic
- Cook the pasta 8 to 10 minutes until it is el dente, drain, reserving 1 cup liquid.
- In a skillet, add the olive oil and place over medium heat. Add the cracked pepper and cooking for 1-2 minutes.
- Quickly add minced garlic, then the reserved liquid bringing it to a boil. Add the drained pasta and mix. Sprinkle the cheese and herbs over the pasta and continue to toss until a rich sauce is formed (2-3 minutes). Turn into a bowl or individual plates and garnish with additional cheese and cracked pepper.