When my sister and I were children in upstate New York, we would wander into the kitchen garden in the summer, sit down and eat cucumbers and tomatoes right off the vine. I don’t know whether it’s a New England thing or a gluttony thing. Yes, I know Canton isn’t in New England; but I was born in New England, and I spent most of my young life in New England—but for the New York stint. In northeastern Maine, where we spent a good part of our summers, I picked green beans which Nana cooked into submission in the pressure cooker. Served with butter, they were mushy and absolutely delicious. My great aunt Latin teacher and I picked raspberries daily and had as much as we wanted for breakfast since we were the pickers. Others had to be satisfied with whatever was left. The pear trees were prolific. The peas were delicious. And we gobbled up leaves of butter lettuce sprinkled with sugar. Oh so good.
It’s July 11 and the garden is flourishing. The tomatoes are beginning to ripen. Yesterday we had the first yellow squash. The herb barrel is full and available. I have been using lettuce each evening. No cucumber or carrots yet, but I can wait. They’ll be eaten when they’re ready. I even have one eggplant—picked today-- and more on the way.
The barrel includes some of the more common herbs that I use a lot—basil, cilantro, oregano—and others that I use less often—thyme, mint, chives, flat and curly leaf parsley. Tonight I used basil and mint in a chicken recipe that was originally written for fish. Quite simply, I put together in a bowl about a half cup of olive oil, 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh mint, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of minced basil, and a small minced garlic clove. I drizzled this over the chicken and seared it on the stove drizzled side down, then drizzled more on the second side before turning. After it was brown on both sides, I added a generous amount of white wine, covered the pan and let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. It was served with some of the sauce remaining in the pan and more of the fresh basil and mint sauce. The chicken was great served with orzo prepared much like risotto. I sautéed diced onions in olive oil, and then the orzo. I added about a half cup of white wine, stirring until absorbed, then about a cup and a half of chicken broth, stirring often until done. The result was yummy. I also served lettuce leaves with tomato slices on top and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and some freshly ground black pepper.
There’s a reason our ancestors grew their own food.