Friday, June 19, 2009

My very own (windowsill) herb garden

I'm very fortunate to have the most fantastic apartment. It's in a wonderful neighborhood (Capitol Hill), close to downtown, pubic tennis courts, green spaces and of course, friends and (essentially) family, plus it's in an old, charming building. But it's an apartment. So while I love it, I go crazy about my lack of outdoor space of my own. I grew in Maine for goodness sake, the thought of not having my own flowers to cut, vegetables to pick and lawn to mow is crazy. I am fortunate to have a house-dwelling friend that has created the most fantastic organic garden in her backyard, so I get to enjoy the fruits of her labor and sip cool drinks on her back porch on hot summer days.

But still, how to cope with the limits of living in an apartment? The Sunday farmers market at the end of the block certainly helps, but I still needed more. So, I did the easiest thing you can do, I grew a windowsill herb garden, and my god, it's fantastic. Early this spring, I bought a packet of mixed herbs (chives, parsley, basil, dill, thyme 'and more'...all for ~$2). I dumped them in a little pot with some potting soil, watered them religiously and viola, before I knew it, I had this tangled mess of green sprouts. I bought a bunch more little terra cotta planters, gently separated root systems and sorted all of the plants. Both the thyme and basil are fantastic, the dill and chives are coming along slowly but surely, and the parsley is a bit of a disaster. I bought starters of parsley (much better), mint, and dug up some spare chives from a friends garden, and added those to my existing plants. The presence of green in my apartment is wonderful and having fresh herbs to cook with is immensely rewarding. While houseplants are fine and dandy, I highly recommend a windowsill herb garden.

Here's what I've learned so far...
1. Use bigger planters than you think you'll need, plants need a lot of space for their roots if they're going to grow to the size you want them to be.
2. Make sure your planters have a hole in the bottom of them so that any excess water can drain and be absorbed later as needed.
3. Be patient! I thought the chives (from seeds) were a disaster, but they are turning out to be a success after all, they just needed a bit more time.

And to wrap it up, here is an excellent recipe to make use of your fresh herbs:

Pasta with Arugula and Fresh Herbs (and grilled chicken, if you so desire).
(Borrowed from the America's Test Kitchen folks, with a personalized hint added)

Ingredients: 1 lb pasta (campanelle, fusilli or penne is best), 1/4 cup olive oil, 7 cloves garlic (minced) , small chile pepper (optional), 2 T lemon juice, 2 cups lightly packed arugula, 1 cup lightly packed fresh herbs (parsley, basil and chives are best), 1 cup parmesan and/or feta cheese, and salt & pepper to taste.

Directions: While pasta is cooking, saute garlic and olive oil together on med-low, adding minced chile pepper if you so desire (not too much though!). After about 3 minutes, remove from heat and add lemon juice. Coursely chop arugula and herbs. Drain pasta, reserving ~1/2 cup of the cooking water. Return pasta to warm pot and add garlic mixture, arugula, fresh herbs and cheese(s). Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir well, adding reserved pasta water if dry, and serve! I also like to add grilled chicken to this. If you choose to do this, I recommend rubbing the chicken beforehand with the following mixture ...olive oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper, and if on hand, a little bit of pesto. Cut the grilled chicken into small chunks and add to the pasta at the same time that everything else is added. Serves 4.

Hint: This also makes a WONDERFUL work lunch. Pre-prepare the garlic mixture, stir with cooked pasta and add salt & pepper. Place the cheese, arugula and herbs in a seperate container. When it comes time to eat lunch at work heat up the pasta in the microwave, then stir in the cheese/herb mixture. Fresh, delicious, healthy and easy!

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