The bottle of Italian seasoning in your pantry is a blend of dried herbs. The exact mixture will vary among manufacturers, but its base is almost always a good quantity of Mediterranean oregano. Having a shaker of this herb blend can be handy for adding flavor to spaghetti sauces and other dishes, but there's no reason why you can't make your own custom blend of Italian seasoning mix.
Mediterranean Oregano vs. Mexican Oregano
There is more than one kind of oregano commonly available. Mediterranean oregano, also known as Greek or Turkish oregano, is the one preferred for Italian seasoning blends. In a pinch, you can use Mediterranean oregano on its own as a substitute for Italian seasoning. Mediterranean oregano is closely related to marjoram, which can also be used in its place. Mexican oregano is a different plant, native to Central America and related to lemon verbena. It has a distinctive licorice note that Mediterranean oregano lacks.
The other major component of most Italian seasoning blends is dried basil. Basil loses a lot of its aromatic qualities when dried, but it still retains some of its distinctive flavor. If you're a big fan of basil, try using the fresh herb instead. One tablespoon of fresh basil is the equivalent to 1 teaspoon dried. Another advantage to using the fresh herb is that you can experiment with different varieties, including the pretty purple opal basil as well as clove basil, lemon basil and anise basil.
Unlike basil, thyme dries well and preserves its pungent, slightly lemony character readily. Like basil, thyme is a member of the mint family. Also like basil, thyme comes in a variety of flavors if you find it fresh or grow it yourself.
Rosemary has a sweet, slightly piney scent and can be used either fresh or dried. It's a favored herb in Italian cuisine and thus an appropriate addition to an Italian seasoning blend.
Some proprietary Italian seasoning blends also contain the herbs marjoram, savory or sage. Some also include garlic powder, black pepper and cayenne pepper.
Putting It All Together
To make your own simple Italian seasoning blend, mix together equal parts of dried oregano, thyme, rosemary and basil. You can store this mixture for later use, up to 6 months. Or try a teaspoon each of the chopped fresh herbs. Adjust this mix to your own personal taste -- including adding other herbs as you see fit.
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