To grow fresh herbs for your kitchen – or indeed to grow just about anything for any reason – you need to slow your heartbeat by at least several beats per minute. In our day, almost nothing is harder to do than that. Which, by my reckoning, means that almost nothing is as important.
I just planted basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary, parsley and cilantro. I did this with my own hands in the dirt, resorting to my shovel as seldom as possible. Getting dirt all over your hands is part of the joy of growing things, as anyone who plants, waters, trims, snips, plucks, prunes and picks will assure you. There is no growth possible without good dirt, and it’s essential that you and it not be strangers.
There are, I suppose, reasons you might not think you need to grow fresh herbs. You might, for instance, insist that the dried versions are good enough, when they are not only NOT good enough but, in most cases, produce a different taste altogether.
In recent years, the supermarkets that sell us milk, eggs and bread almost invariably offer some fresh herbs, sometimes only the herbs and sometimes what resembles a plant with spindly roots suspended in a plastic bag of water. Yes, this is better than the leaf packets, and anything is better than the dried. But after a while with these things, you are part of the way to farming already, whether you realize it or not.
Surely the biggest reason for growing fresh herbs is flavor. That’s certainly why more and more chefs find space for an herb garden, even if their restaurant is stuck in some heartless highrise. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve picked my way around rooftop HVAC units to find a tiny plot of dirt sprouting the most delicate greenery. Chefs love to have these bushes handy. You can run up (or down or over) and pick only the amount you need for some specific dish. And being cut that very moment, it will deliver more flavor than any other version of itself.
Surprisingly to me, economy is another reason given for growing your own. I’m not always sure about this, since any initial planting has a cost in herbs, as seeds or small seedlings, plus enough garden soil to cover all the roots. Still, anyone who’s gone to the supermarket to spend $2 on a tiny handful of leaves knows that saving money is at least possible. It might take a CPA to figure it all out, but it sure will feel good every time you don’t have to run to the store or plunk down that $2.
Overall, herbs may well be the easiest of plants to grow. They thrive in a variety of sunlight levels. They are flexible enough when it comes to watering, as long as you give them some water. And they grow relatively quickly. If fresh herbs are the only thing you grow, even the smallest of bushes can give you that biggest of culinary joys.
You can step outside, see what’s bright and fragrant, and say, “Why yes, I know what I will fix for dinner tonight.”
CHICKEN BRAISED IN RED WINE & ROSEMARY
If your family prefers, the following recipe works okay with chicken breast, even those breast halves cut off the bone. But if you really want an exciting, full-flavored lunch or dinner, go the direction we do using drumsticks and thighs.
4 bone-in chicken drumsticks (about 1 pound), skinned
4 bone-in chicken thighs (about 1 1/4 pounds), skinned
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup Chianti or other rich red wine
1 cup unsalted chicken broth
1 teaspoon sugar
1 small jar Mom’s brand Spaghetti Sauce
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Make 1 (1/2-inch-deep) cut in each chicken piece; sprinkle evenly with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Heat a large Dutch oven over high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Place flour in a shallow dish. Dredge chicken in flour. Add chicken to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side. Remove chicken from pan.
Add shallots, garlic, and rosemary to pan; cook 2 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Add wine to pan; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper, chicken stock, sugar, Mom’s sauce, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil; return chicken to pan. Reduce heat to medium; cook, partially covered, 15 minutes or until chicken is done, turning once. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serves 6-8.
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