PITTSBURGH – Every cloud has a silver lining, right?
The coronavirus pandemic has gotten more of us outdoors, dirtying our hands in the soil. And a gardening boom has been ushered in as people search for ways to occupy their time with kid-friendly and soul-soothing activities.
Anxiety over food supplies and availability of fresh vegetables this summer has led to a surge in searches for "growing vegetables," according to Google Trends. People are more interested than ever in trying to cultivate herbs, as well.
Both Pennsylvania-based Burpee Seeds, which has been helping people to garden for more than 140 years, and Stokes Seeds in Canada had to temporarily suspend sales in spring because of the growing interest in gardening.
Thankfully, many seeds are back in stock now and plenty of potted plants are available at local nurseries and in big box stores like Lowe's and 爱购彩登录 Depot.
While some amateur gardeners might be reluctant to plant a full-fledged pandemic Victory Garden – gardens are hard work, taking time and effort –herb gardens are an easier sell.
"They're very easy to grow, because they don't need a lot of care or attention or fertilizing," says Peggy Trevanion, a Penn State Master Gardener and herb expert.
Herbs tend to be "less fussy" than vegetables, and they're also incredibly versatile in their uses. A cook's best friend, these aromatic bits of green brighten sauces, bring fresh flavor to soups, stews and stocks, and make meat and vegetables sing, often in foreign languages. A sprinkle of something green as a finishing touch also makes food look pretty.
They smell good on your porch, windowsill or garden. And a little can go a long way.
Some of the easiest herbs to start in the garden from seed are cilantro and dill. Mint also is a wonderful herb, though its roots – called runners – can be invasive if it's not grown in a confined space. Trevanion suggests planting it between the sidewalk and the house, or in a pot sunken into the ground.
Mediterranean herbs such as basil, parsley, sage, oregano and thyme are great for picks for novices, especially since they all do just as well in a pot as they will in the ground – a definite plus for those who don't have large yards or porches.
Growing conditions for each herb should be taken into consideration, too. Some herbs love sun and water while others can thrive in the shade. For instance, woody herbs like thyme, rosemary and sage are much more draught tolerant than basil, chives and parsley, which like plenty of water. To be sure, read the info on the seed packet and take that advice to heart.
A good first step in planning out an herb garden is to put like-minded plants together so you don't kill them with kindness by over- or under-watering them.
Also, herbs have a life cycle. So if you want a continual supply, plant new plants every four to six weeks during the growing season or keep them carefully pruned. For instance, cilantro is usually only harvested once while basil and rosemary can be pinched off and snipped back to create new growth.
Go one size up when it comes to choosing a pot, especially if you want it to produce all season, so the roots can expand and absorb nutrients and water. Be sure to fill it with nutrient-rich potting soil; a handful of compost on the surface also works wonders. But don't worry about fertilizers. They dilute herbs' essential oil, which give them their fragrance.
If you have questions, the Herb Society of America is a good resource. It offers fact sheets, essential guides, sustainable gardening practices and even recipes for the harvest.
The main rule is to plant what you like to eat and don't be afraid to experiment or fail. Gardening can throw challenges your way, but also it brings satisfaction and so much enjoyment.
PASTA WITH FRESH ITALIAN HERBS
This easy pasta recipe pairs charred cherry tomatoes with five common Italian herbs and fresh mozzarella. I used corkscrew Gemelli pasta and finished the dish off with a dusting of grated Parmesan cheese. Dinner was ready in less than 15 minutes!
12 ounces dried tubular pasta
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
½ cup torn fresh basil leaves
½ teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 pinch red pepper flakes, or more to taste
2 cups fresh cherry tomatoes
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
½ cup fresh mozzarella pearls
Grated Parmesan, for garnish
Cook pasta according to package instructions; drain, reserving ½cup water.
Place pasta in a large bowl. Add 2 teaspoons olive oil, basil, oregano, salt and hot pepper flakes, and toss well to combine.
Heat remaining oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add tomatoes and garlic, and saute for 2 minutes. Add chives and thyme and saute another minute or two, until tomatoes begin to char and look they're about to burst. Add reserved pasta water, a little at a time, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook for an additional minute, then add sauce to bowl with pasta along with the chopped parsley. Toss gently to combine.
Spoon into bowls and top with torn mozzarella. Serve immediately.
Recipe by Gretchen McKay
PAN-FRIED FISH WITH CILANTRO-JALAPENO SALSA
Jalapeno gives this fresh cilantro salsa a nice kick. I served it on fish, but you also could spoon it on top of grilled meat or use it as a topping for tacos.
1 large bunch cilantro, stems removed
1 jalapeno, seeded
½ cup basil leaves
¼ cup mint leaves
2 garlic cloves
½ cup olive oil
Juice of 1 or 2 limes
Salt to taste
1 pound mild white fish fillets, such as tilapia or catfish
⅓ cup flour
2 garlic cloves thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Prepare salsa: Finely chop cilantro, jalapeno, basil, mint and garlic and place in a bowl. Toss to mix. Stir in oil, lime juice and a little water, if necessary, to thin it to your preferred consistency,
Prepare fish: Season the fillets with the salt, pepper, and lime juice, then lightly dust with the flour. Dust off any excess flour.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic slices and fry until lightly golden, about 1 minute, then remove from pan.
Place the fillets in the skillet (avoid crowding the pan). Fry fish in hot oil until it easily flakes with a fork, about 4 minutes per side.
Serve fish immediately, with cilantro-jalapeno salsa spooned on top.
Recipe by Gretchen McKay
French chef James Beard was well-known for his love of tarragon, a leafy green herb with a distinctive anise flavor. Here, it's used to dress up pan-fried chicken in wine sauce.
Serves 2 to 3.
3-pound frying chicken, cut in quarters
¼ cup (½ stick) butter
1 tablespoons oil
Salt and pepper to taste
4 shallots, finely chopped
½ cup white wine
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped or 2 tablespoons dried
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Melt butter and oil in a covered skillet large enough to hold all the chicken pieces. When the butter is hot, add the chicken pieces skin side down and brown. Turn them over and brown the other side. This will take about 10 minutes. Salt and pepper them well. If you don't have a large enough skillet, after browning the pieces place them in a covered Dutch oven or casserole and continue cooking.
Add the shallots or scallions. Lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer very, very slowly for 15 to 18 minutes, or 20 minutes if the chickens are on the large side.
Remove the cover, increase the heat slightly, and add the white wine, tarragon, and parsley, scraping up any bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Turn the chicken pieces again, and cook briskly for 3 or 4 minutes to reduce the sauce a little.
Serve with roasted tiny new potatoes.