Many of us currently have a little more time at home than we’re used to. If you’ve already purged every closet and moved every piece of furniture, it’s time to think outside the box (house) and get to planting.
Whether you’re a master gardener or a wary novice, this is a hobby that produces tangible — and delicious — rewards. Plus, as we all think more about where our food comes from, there’s nothing more local than your backyard. Pair your homegrown produce with Pennsylvania wines for the ultimate in locavore living.
Here’s some inspiration for your kitchen garden.
This is the perfect toe-dip for the gardening newbie. Plant a couple of your favorite herb varieties and wait for your cooking output to improve immensely. A sprinkle of fresh parsley, dill, rosemary, or cilantro will brighten up any meal, even one made from pantry ingredients. Then there’s the herb that’s almost a dish on its own: basil. It’s incredibly easy to grow, as long as there’s plenty of sun. And the more you eat, the better: Harvesting the herb improves the health of the plant. Turn that bush of tender green leaves into a vibrant pesto. All you need is a handful of nuts (pinenuts are traditional, but also pricey; walnuts, pistachios, or almonds are all excellent options), a clove of garlic, and some grated parmesan cheese.
Pair your pesto pasta with a grassy Pennsylvania white such as Sauvignon Blanc or Grüner Veltliner. Both wines are bright and acidic, and they will emphasize the subtle sweetness of the basil. Eat this quick, easy meal outside in the fading light of day.
Planning a plot of tomatoes is a different kind of shopping addiction. Sure, you don’t need ten pairs of shoes, but it’s nice to have options. And when it comes to tomatoes, you don’t need red ones and green ones and yellow ones and little ones and striped ones, but it sure is nice to have options. Select heirloom seeds from a Pennsylvania producer like Happy Cat Farm in Chester County or start simple with a plant of red cherry tomatoes from your local market.
A simple tomato salad is welcome on any table (add some fresh basil; see above), but our favorite way to eat peak-season tomatoes is with salt, pepper, and a smear of mayo on good bread. This Southern staple is like a stripped-down BLT — though bacon wouldn’t be a terrible idea.
Pair your tomato sandwich with a light, fruity red like Pinot Noir. Some Pennsylvania winemakers are even experimenting with Beaujolais nouveau-style wines: These young wines are designed to be zippy, fresh, and drinkable — and benefit from a slight chill in the fridge. The sweetness and acidity of the tomatoes will accentuate the earthy undertones in the wine.
Zucchini and other summer squashes are easy to grow and incredibly prolific, just be sure you have enough space for their inevitable spread. Drop off baskets of your bumper crop on neighbors’ stoops, and you’ll still have plenty for your household. This is your warm-weather workhorse: put it on the grill, slice it thin (and raw) for salads, bread and fry in long fingers, saute and toss with pasta, or chop into yogurt for your new favorite condiment, tzatziki (another shout out to fresh herbs).
The herb world is full of classic combinations — rosemary and lamb, tarragon and chicken, cilantro and avocado — and we think you should add zucchini and mint to the list. Pair any of the above dishes with a sprinkling of the hardy herb (which should stay in its own pot; it can spread like a weed) and serve a glass of floral, off-dry Gewurztraminer. Summer squash is a bit of a blank canvas so choose a white wine with a lot going on. This German varietal is known for its signature aroma of lychee, and fresh flavors of lime and lemongrass.
Salad just became a renewable resource. Baby greens can be grown in a “cut-and-come-again” style, which means that you snip off 75 percent of the visible plant and the lettuce regenerates. This style of gardening is also appealing for urbanites because it can be done in a small space. Choose lettuces with a bit of bite — arugula, mesclun, mustard greens, watercress, mizuna — and you’ll have a marvelous counterpoint to any main dish.
Serve your salad with a simple, slightly sweet dressing (olive oil, vinegar, mustard, honey, a dash of soy sauce), a sprinkling of toasted nuts, and your favorite salad cheese (goat, blue, feta, shaved parm). Then crack open a bottle of austere, mineral-y Pennsylvania Albariño. The wine’s strong citrus notes and peachy aroma will play well with the grassy bitterness of the greens.