I used to have a backyard bursting with bunches of basil, parsley, lemon thyme and a plethora of other herbs. Whenever a recipe called for some, I’d just go and pluck a handful. Aside from the hot, balmy New York City summers when the plants required constant care, mother nature mostly did the work — sunshine during the day and the occasional rain once a week, which supplied enough water to make up for the days I forgot to give them a sprinkle with the hose.
The apartment I live in now doesn’t have a garden, so I rely on window boxes for growing fresh herbs. Indoor plants need more attention and due diligence, especially in the water department. When I went away for the Christmas holidays this past December, I forgot to set up my self-watering globes. It was no surprise that I came home to bone-dry plants.
As with all of life’s mistakes, though, there is a lesson to be learned. Ever since I accidentally killed all my plants, I’ve been relying on the farmers’ market for fresh herbs — luckily we have a hydroponic farmer at the Union Square market during the winter months. The problem with buying herbs versus growing them is that I don’t usually finish up the bunch before it wilts. Then one day, I glanced at the old containers of dried-up plants (I swear I’m going to empty them this week), and suddenly the light bulb went off. With a little planning, I could make my own dried herbs. I use the fresh-bought herbs as I would normally, but just before any leftovers hit the wilting stage, I pluck the leaves and set them on a baking sheet.
If you need to use up all of that basil from the garden, make basil-flavored salt: Pulse ½ cup kosher salt and ½ cup packed basil leaves in a food processor, then spread on a baking sheet and bake at 225 degrees F until dry, 30 to 40 minutes, tossing halfway through. Let cool and pulse again to make a fine powder. Serve it with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella at a cookout, or package it to give to the neighbors.
(Photograph by Sam Kaplan)
Every week, Alex Guarnaschelli, host of Alex’s Day Off, shares with readers what she’s eating — whether it’s from the farmers’ market or fresh off the boat, she’ll have you craving everything from comfort food to seasonal produce.
“Never put parsley on green beans,” one of my mentors whispered ominously to me one night in his kitchen. A young cook at the time, I dutifully heeded his advice. Years later, I was absent-mindedly sprinkling chopped chives on some green beans when I realized it was actually chopped parsley. A chill crept up my spine. Parsley with green beans. Help! I looked around to see if anyone was watching. The coast was clear. I tasted it. Delicious. It occurred to me I had never even asked why parsley and green beans don’t make a good match. The truth is, whatever you like is all that matters.
Read her suggestions for basil, dill, sage and tarragon »
It’s that time of year and I cannot help being excited to get outside and play in the dirt! Last year I was a little too ambitious and started my garden way too early, alas, it taught me patience, and I’m applying that lesson now.
I’ve started my seedlings at home on my porch and am growing oregano, parsley, basil, thyme, pumpkins, heirloom tomatoes, squash, and garden beans! I can happily report that they are growing strong and will hopefully be fruitful. I’m also sharing a piece of my small yard with my good friends so that they can cultivate the earth as well. It’s a wonderful excuse to have friends over for harvesting parties and BBQ’s!
I’ve also tried to plant some herbs here at my FN desk… as of now I still have 2 big pots of dirt. Perhaps I’ll give it another try next week. It would be a shame to go all summer infront of this window without anything green to stare back at me.
What are you planting this year?
Kendra, Operation Foodie