I went out into my garden today and I am not sure that the rosemary has made it through the winter. It's a temperamental sort of species, rosemary, sometimes surviving the harshest of winters, other times wilting in a mild one.
The rosemary in my garden has a special poignancy this year because it came from DeBaggio Herb Farm. I started buying herbs and vegetable plants from Tom DeBaggio back when he had a greenhouse in front of his Arlington home back when I started gardening, more than 20 years ago. In recent years, I've made the drive out to Chantilly, VA to the expanded herb farm he and his son Francesco set up out there.
It's always a magical trip--full of the promise of spring and summer. There's a demonstration herb/rock garden outside, tables and tables full of perennial flowers. Inside the greenhouse there are the peppers, the more tender herbs, the basil. The sweet Genoa basil that fills our summers with pesto. And behind the greenhouse, more tables with more kinds of tomato plants than you can imagine. The hardest part of the trip is picking out tomatoes, and I always buy one or two more than I really can fit into my garden.
Tom DeBaggio was usually around the greenhouse when I was there, first in Arlington and then in Chantilly. He was gruff, a little brusque, and I always felt shy around him. I knew that he had written books on herbs, that many of the species he sold were cultivars he'd introduced to this country. That he had many kinds of rosemary and had even named one for his wife.
If DeBaggio's name rings a bell for you, it's because over the last 10 years, Tom DeBaggio's struggle with early onset Alzheimer's has been chronicled by NPR, and in two books that he wrote about his experience.
He died last month. You can read the last story about him HERE and the other pieces are there as well.
When I garden this spring, especially when I make the pilgrimage out to Chantilly, I'll be thinking about Tom. And I was tonight when I broke off a sprig of dried rosemary that I'd cut from my plant last fall and made this dish:
Roasted Potatoes and Onions With Rosemary
1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes
1 pound yellow pearl onions
Drop the onions into boiling water for 2 minutes, drain and cool. Trim off the ends and remove the outermost skins.
Wash the potatoes and slice them into bite sized pieces. If you are using "baby" potatoes, cutting them in half will suffice.
Put the potatoes and onions into a foil covered 9x13 baking dish.
Add olive oil and toss to coat.
Strew rosemary leaves across the top
Bake at 450 for 20-30 minutes, until the vegetables begin to brown. Toss several times during baking.