Saturday, June 23, 2012

Herb Gardening

I’ve been gardening in Somerville in an utterly irresponsible way for about fifteen years now. I rarely plan ahead, and if I do I make four or five different plans for the same spot on random scraps of paper that I don’t consult when I’m buying seeds and seedlings. I don’t mark out plots with string, and I usually don’t even manage to put in little sticks saying what’s gone in where. Sometimes, I replant an area I’ve already done. Or, because I always end up with too many seeds, I interplant things that really don’t go together. So my garlic are poking out between my strawberries, there are beans getting ready to tangle into everything, and I lost my sage to aggressive mint. But, I end up with a garden of survivors: if something can make it in my garden, it thrives on overcrowding, intermittent watering, and general disregard. So fifteen years in, I have a set of staples that I can truly depend on. Many things volunteer (grow from dropped seeds from last year’s plants or from the compost): beans, tomatoes, mystery squash. But the most reliable of course are the perennials, and in New England, the perennials are mostly herbs: mint, thyme, oregano, chives, tarragon, lavender. Here’s what it looks like.

I’m trying to keep a few spots open for the cilantro and parsley seeds I always toss out in the Spring, but it’s getting smaller and smaller…

Occasionally, I look in envy at my neighbors’ neat rows of well-groomed plants, but then I realize, every time I look he’s out there, bent over them. If I had that kind of time, I’d love to do the same, but what I love even more is that right now, in the midst of working and mothering and all of the other responsibilities I keep taking on, I can let chaos reign in the garden and still carry up basketfuls of delight whenever I happen to venture out there.

All of the herbal loveliness of course fits into most anything you make, but with so much of it, it’s also nice to see it not as an add-in but as the star. It certainly is in herby green rice.

Herby Green Rice

Serves 4

1 cup (dry) rice
2 cups water
4 T olive oil
2 T butter
½ to 1 cup mushrooms, fresh or rehydrated
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch thyme
1 bunch oregano
2 large garlic scapes

Heat 1 T of the oil. Pour in rice and stir a few times, to coat with oil and toast very lightly. Add water. Bring to a boil Cover and lower to a low simmer. Cook 30 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the mushrooms into small pieces. Saute in 1 T olive oil with salt and pepper for about 15 minutes. Mince all of the herbs and the scapes, and cut the butter into 4-6 pats. Toss the rice, mushrooms, herbs, butter, and remaining olive oil in a large bowl.

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