5 Classic Italian Herbs (and the Best Ways to Use Them)

It is said that variety is the spice of life. This is never more true than when choosing Italian herbs to turn a pot of pasta into a culinary treat. Of course, selecting the right spices to enhance the flavor profile is essential. While experimentation is fun, you might not be very pleased if you grab the sugar instead of the salt.

However, many herbs are often tied to specific regions. Therefore it makes sense that native dishes use many of them. These flavor profiles are culturally significant. That is no different with classic Italian herbs. Several traditional herbs will make your Italian dishes positively sing, and many work great for other recipes, as well. Here are the top five you’ll want to add to your spice rack, stat:

1. Basil

Not everyone will agree that basil is the best Italian herb, but considering how many foods it can be included in, it’s certainly a contender. This member of the mint family comes in dozens of varieties with slightly different flavor profiles that add hints of sweet, savory, and peppery appeal to all kinds of dishes.

Basil works great with all manner of classic Italian dishes. You can put whole basil leaves on pizza, mix chopped fresh basil into literally any pasta dish, and of course, blend it into a delectable pesto. However, basil also adds incredible appeal to roasted meats or vegetables, soups, sauces, salads, desserts, and even mixed beverages. If you’ve never had a basil martini, you’re missing out!

2. Thyme

With its earthy profile featuring hints of lemon and mint, savory thyme is a great way to add an enticing aroma and flavor to a variety of dishes, particularly comfort food faves like roasted potatoes, beef stew, soups, and pasta.

Want to spice up your favorite creamy mushroom pasta? Fresh thyme is not only a tasty addition but also a beautiful one.

3. Rosemary

The thing you need to know about rosemary is that the strong lemon and pine aroma you smell translates to an equally strong flavor. Unfortunately, this means it’s not well-suited to delicate dishes in which you want other flavors to shine through.

Rosemary is a frequent addition to rich roasted meats like lamb and pork that can handle its intense flavor, but it also adds a lot to acidic tomato sauce and pairs well with garlic in dense loaves of bread like focaccia. Want to add it to your mixology menu? Try smashing a sprig and slipping it into a sweet, lemony honey highball recipe.

4. Oregano

A strange few may try to smoke this aromatic herb (not recommended). Instead, we prefer to add it to pizza pie and pasta recipes. Oregano is best in savory preparations with an earthy, peppery, slightly bitter flavor.

It adds a lot to roasted meat dishes and savory bread, but if you want to go a bit off the beaten path, consider adding oregano to a compound butter and putting a few pats in baked fish packets.

5. Parsley

This peppery herb may have mainly been relegated to garnish status, but its unmistakable flavor adds a lot to a range of meats, pasta, and sauces if you use it properly.

As Italian herbs go, parsley may not be as well-regarded as, say, basil, but it can pack a punch that changes the entire flavor profile of a dish. Used sparingly, it can add bite to pesto or pep up roasted salmon, and it’s vital when making flavorful meatballs.

Bonus Herb: Marjoram

You’ve probably seen this in many Italian herb blends but what is it exactly? Think of marjoram (pronounced maar-jr-uhm) as a subtle sister of oregano. It’s both milder and sweeter than oregano. However, it shares very similar flavor notes. They are so similar in fact, in some countries words marjoram and oregano are interchangeable. In Italian dishes, it is a common herb used in sauces. But because of marjoram’s versatility, it can be used with beef, fish, poultry, and veggies. Don’t be afraid to experiment with it!

Classic Italian Dishes at Spizzico Italian Restaurant

Experimenting with herbs in your kitchen can be a lot of fun. Still, for nights when you want an outstanding meal (you don’t have to cook) for the whole family or when you’re planning a night out with friends, Spizzico offers an expansive menu and the appeal of a home-cooked Italian meal.