If you grow nothing else, grow herbs. You won’t need much space. A tub by the back door or a pot on the windowsill will do just fine. From this small investment of time and space you will be rewarded with not only more flavourful meals but also with the giddy satisfaction of having grown something yourself. And that’s before we’ve even mentioned the air miles/pesticides/water you save by not having your herbs shipped from an irrigated desert in Peru/Morocco/Israel and suffocated in plastic.
More selfishly, and besides the superior taste, it’s worth growing a pot of herbs for no other reason than the feeling it gives you. You start with your seeds. They look lifeless, unpromising at best. You plant them. Water them. Before long you find yourself glancing at the pot whenever you pass on the off chance something has germinated. You start to hope it will. You are already becoming addicted. You wait and wait. Then, one day, you visit the pot and there’s a tiny green shoot. You squeal in excitement (oh, yes you will, I promise you will). Over the next few weeks you tend your seedling. Does it need more water, you wonder? Is it warm enough? Should you turn it so it doesn’t grow at an angle? The time you spend watching and pondering your fledgling will surprise you, but your heart is softening with the uncomplicated joy of it all and you can’t help it. Then, before you know it, your apparently lifeless seed has become a grown up. You feel like you know it as a friend by now. It smells delicious and you snip a bit off to pop in your omelette one Tuesday evening after a long day at work. And the sense of achievement you feel from this small act of cooking with your own produce is unprecedented. You did this. This small piece of magic that turned a dull little seed into a delicious herb pot was your work and now you feel bathed in glory and your mid-week supper has never tasted so good. You’ve enjoyed it, you’ve marveled at nature, you’ve given yourself agency, you’ve made yourself happier. You’ve grown your own food.
And you thought it was just a pot of parsley. We underestimate how loaded the simple act of growing is.
I add herbs by the handful to everything I cook. It can, almost always, only help. Come Spring, when the first herb harvests are lush, green and still full of novelty after the grey winter, I like them most of all added to dishes right at the end of cooking. Un-chopped. This way, they keep that bright, powerful punch of fresh, grassy flavour.
That punch is ideal for a spring soup. This begins with a whole chicken, lathered with herby butter and roasted. I then make a stock from the herby juices and bones and this is the basis of the soup. You can use whatever green veg you have to hand but make sure they are veg with a little crunch to them – broad beans, green beans, little gem – that sort of thing.