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Season everything from meat dishes to snacks with rosemary

Editor's Note: Our "Spice of the Month" series is a monthly look at how to spice up your cooking.

If you're thinking about rosemary - and really, who isn't - you're probably thinking about adding it to a dish of lamb. This versatile herb, however, can be used for so much more.

It can be used to add flavor to vegetables, breads and even snacks. In addition to trying out a new recipe for a classic roasted leg of lamb, try adding rosemary to popcorn and roasted nuts.

All About

Rosemary

•Where it comes from: This hardy perennial shrub has wooden stems and leaves shaped like needles. Upright rosemary can grow as tall as 5 feet, while the low-growing plant doesn't usually get more than a foot high.

•Forms: Sprigs of fresh and dried rosemary are available. The dried leaves, however, are often quite tough. When used in cooking, the dried leaves should be broken into small pieces to help soften them and to release their flavor. The herb is also sold in a powdered form.

•How it's used: This herb goes well with breads and rich meats, such as pork, lamb and duck. It can also be added to vegetables like zucchini, eggplant and cabbage.

•What it goes with: Rosemary can be paired with basil, bay leaves, garlic, nutmeg, sage, tarragon and thyme.

•How it should be stored: To keep sprigs of fresh rosemary for a week or longer, immerse the stems in a little water. Change the water every few days. Fresh rosemary can also be frozen for several months. Wrap the rosemary sprigs in foil, then seal the herb into a plastic bag.

•What you might not know: Rosemary is native to the lands around the Mediterranean, where it has been used for thousands of years. According to legend, the flowers of the rosemary bush were once white, but turned blue after Mary, the mother of Jesus, hung her blue robe over the plant. The bush then became known as "the rose of Mary."

Sources: "The Spice and Herb Bible" by Ian Hemphill, with recipes by Kate Hemphill (Robert Rose, $24.95)

Rosemary

and Brown Sugar Nuts

1 pound unsalted mixed nuts (cashews, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts or walnuts)

Salt and black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons butter, melted

3 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Toss nuts to coat with salt, pepper, butter, rosemary, brown sugar and light corn syrup. Spread in an even layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned, about 7 minutes.

After removing the nuts from the oven, stir them occasionally until the coating dries, about 5 minutes. Cool completely before serving.

Makes 4 cups.

Source: "Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary" by Irma Rombauer, Marion Rombauer and Ethan Becker (Scribner, $30)

Rosemary-Parmesan

Popcorn

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1⁄2 cup popcorn

Salt to taste

1 tablespoon melted butter

1⁄4 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Heat 2 tablespoons oil and three kernels of popcorn in a lidded 3-quart heavy-bottomed pan over high heat. When the kernels start to pop, add 1⁄2 cup popcorn and shake to coat. Cover and cook, shaking the pot, until the popping stops, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and melted butter. Shake the popped corn with rosemary and Parmesan.

Makes 5 cups.

Source: "Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary" by Irma Rombauer, Marion Rombauer and Ethan Becker (Scribner, $30)

Roast Leg of Lamb

One 5-pound leg of lamb, trimmed of excess fat

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary

1 tablespoon minced fresh mint

1 garlic clove, pressed

1 cup pomegranate juice

1⁄4 cup good red wine

Fresh rosemary sprigs

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

1⁄2 cup water

In a bowl or Ziploc bag large enough to hold the lamb comfortably, mix olive oil, minced rosemary, mint, garlic, and 1⁄2 cup pomegranate juice. Season all sides of the lamb with kosher salt and pepper then add lamb to marinade. Cover tightly and refrigerate. Lamb should marinate 2 to 6 hours; be sure to turn it over halfway through so all sides get marinated.

Preheat oven to 450 F. Place lamb, fat side up, in a large roasting pan. Pour any excess marinade over the top and sides. Place lamb in the oven and immediately turn down the heat to 350 F. Roast until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the lamb reaches 160 F (about 1 hour and 15 minutes). Transfer to platter and tent with foil; let rest 15 minutes.

While meat is resting, spoon off the fat from the drippings in the roasting pan. Add wine, water, and remaining pomegranate juice. Place pan over burner at medium heat. Bring to a boil, scrapping any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Add any lamb juices from the platter and cook down until sauce is reduced by 25 percent. Keep warm. Cut lamb into thin slices. Garnish with rosemary springs and serve with warm pan juices.

Source: Whole Foods, www.wholefoods.com