– A lovely pesto pasta salad with sautéed chicken and fresh mozzarella –
Even though I’ve spent my entire life in the suburbs, I’ve always had a longing to have a farm. When I was a little girl I begged my parents to let me join 4H, so that I could work with farm animals while raising competition ducks, rabbits, cattle, and goats. I dreamed of moving to a tiny town called Brockett, in stony North Dakota, where my great-grandma had a childhood friend named Tilly. My family tried to explain that Brockett was not much larger than a postage stamp, and that the most exciting place to hang out there was the town’s solitary gas station. “Great!” I exclaimed. “More room for plants and animals!”
Of course, none of that ever happened. The wayward dreams of a burb-bound eight-year-old rarely end in rural bliss, unless the parents have similar dreams. Mine didn’t. So here I sit, nearly 30 years later, in my cushy IT job in a forest of steel-gray skyscrapers. Over the past few years I’ve rekindled that dream of moving to country, where I can wander among my rows of corn, tend my pasture of dairy goats, and grill beef raised by my own hands. Until then, I’m left to garden in my little one bedroom apartment.
When I bought my little kitchen garden thingie, I was elated. Given that I have no real outdoor space to plant a garden, this might be my only chance to grow my own herbs! How could I say no? My kitchen is small but there’s room on the counter for the little garden, which turned out to be more than I was expecting: what I unwrapped was a cute little water fountain with full-spectrum lights. I was delighted.
I set up the unit and was surprised to realize that it filled my kitchen with a warm, sunny glow — much needed during these dank winter months. Who knew I’d be getting a mood-enhancing sun lamp along with the ability to grow herbs? I’ve noticed that I spend more time in the kitchen since I’ve installed my little “garden,” as it provides a much-needed boost of full-spectrum light. Then there’s the internal fountain, which keeps the herbs hydrated, providing a welcome babbling-brook-type sound that makes me feel like I’m sitting in the forest on the banks of a lazy creek.
This thing seems to have turned my kitchen into a little spa. I’ve started working at my kitchen table because I enjoy it so much. And then there’s the herbs – huge, leafy towers of fresh basil! The unit came with six different kinds of basil, and they’re grown tall and strong, begging to be put to use in a fresh pesto dish (like this lovely, spicy green garlic pesto recipe). Which, conveniently, is the recipe that I’ve got waiting for you below.
My basil grew fast and healthy, though a cold snap settled into our area which slowed their growth. The fix was easy enough — I wrapped a sheet of saran wrap about the unit, understanding that the warmth of the lights would create a little greenhouse. BOOM. Just like that, my basil exploded into a thick, green shrub, demanding a harvest almost every three days. Not too bad for a little tabletop garden!
While my kitchen garden came with basil, you can grow anything in this unit. Tomatoes, strawberries, flowers, or other bushy herbs will all do well. It even comes with trellis attachments for creeping plants that need a little more support, which would be great for cherry tomatoes. The lid raises from the initial sprouting height of about eight inches to nearly two feet, to accommodate taller plants.
If you’re stuck thinking of a gift for some apartment-bound plant lover, I can’t recommend a kitchen garden enough. In fact, it would be a stellar gift for anyone you know that is a little sad this winter, someone in need of cheerful light and greenery to salve their dreary winter days. You’ll be giving the gift of sunlight, a smile, and fresh summer flavor. You can’t get any better than that.
And because it’s a kitchen garden, here’s a great little recipe I developed with the basil from my new kitchen spa. :)
Pesto Pasta Salad with Chicken and Mozzarella
- 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella chopped into 1-inch cubes
- Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
- 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 12 ounces spiral pasta
- 1 clove garlic crushed
- 1/4 cup toasted walnuts
- 3 tablespoons grapeseed oil (or a good, fruity olive oil)
- 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 packed cups fresh basil leaves
- Sprinkle mozzarella lightly with salt and pepper. Toss gently and set aside.
- Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add olive oil to a sauté pan and heat over medium-high flame. Cook chicken, tossing occasionally, until cooked through and well browned. Allow to cool.
- Prepare pasta according to the directions on the package. Once the pasta has been drained, sprinkle the noodles with a few drops of oil to keep them from sticking. Toss to coat evenly and pour into a large bowl. Add mozzarella and chicken, tossing well to combine.
- To a food processor add garlic, nuts, grapeseed oil, Parmesan, lemon juice, salt, an pepper. Pulse a three times. Add basil and pulse until you've got a creamy consistency, scraping down the sides of the food processor as needed.
- Pour the pesto into the bowl with the pasta, cheese, and chicken. Toss to mix, being careful to not smash the pasta. Serve immediately.
This content was originally posted on FearlessFresh.com.