Every kitchen gardener knows when spring has arrived, signaled by spring green shoots gloriously erupting through the soil and evolving into one of the most coveted herbs of garnishment: the chive.
Chives are one of the hardiest herbs and the easiest to grow. They require no maintenance, are the first to make their appearance in the spring, endure all the way through the festive cooking projects of Thanksgiving dinner, and they faithfully return year after year.
Used primarily for its long slender leaves, chives are actually the smallest member of the family that spans onions, leeks, garlic and shallots. The leaves of this herb are hollow and usually snipped to desired lengths with kitchen scissors. In late spring, lavender-hued blooms erupt from among the chive’s leaves. These flowers are edible and add a pretty pastel touch to spring salads.
Chives add mild flavor and flecks of bright green color to corn bread, mashed potatoes, rice pilafs, omelets, dips, salad dressings, and cheddar biscuits. Their brilliant emerald hue encourages generous sprinkling for a decorative finishing touch to fish, potatoes, soups and bisques.
Chives are best when harvested from your own garden immediately before use. During the colder winter months, fresh chives can be purchased from the supermarket. Seek only those with bright green leaves, devoid of any brown or yellow, and be sure that they are not wilted. Do not waste your money on dried chives from the spice section of the supermarket, they offer no flavor advantage whatsoever.
Chives are one of the key herbs used to make the fines herbes combination often used in French cuisine, along with tarragon, chervil and parsley.
If you have been revisited by chives in your garden every year, but have snubbed the rather ubiquitous green blades in lieu of stronger ingredients such as minced garlic or chopped rosemary, reacquaint some of your favorite dishes with the addition of this underappreciated herb. Next time you prepare scrambled eggs, toss some into the pan. The next soup you present at the table, whether a warming bowl of cream of mushroom or a chilled summer vichyssoise, finish the presentation with a final sprinkle of chives over each serving. Preparing some appetizers of smoked salmon with cream cheese and horseradish over toasts? Add some flecks of spring over them before serving. Take any classic favorite recipe and incorporate some chives into the ingredients to create a new incarnation that welcomes spring. This is exactly what I have done in this recipe for gourgere, a French gruyere-infused choux pastry that is piped into a ring and then baked until golden and puffy. Personally, I think this cheesy delight makes the most perfect lunch when accompanied by a salad and a glass of wine.
GOURGERE WITH CHIVES
1/3 cup butter
¾ cup whole milk
¾ cup flour
1/3 cup chives, snipped crosswise to half-inch lengths
1 ½ cups shredded Gruyere cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large sauce pan, heat the butter and the milk over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add all of the flour (throw it all in at once) into the pot. Constantly stir the mixture over medium heat until it all clumps together into a ball that does not stick on the sides of the pot. Note: this process is making a choux. Remove the pot from the heat and cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Still keeping the pot off of the heat, add the eggs, one at a time, stirring vigorously to incorporate each egg before adding the next one. Once all of the eggs have been well mixed in, stir in ¾ cup of the cheese and the chives until they have been mixed through. Spoon the mixture onto a nonstick baking sheet, arranging it to form a ring. Sprinkle the remaining cheese around the top of the gourgere, then place into the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until billowy and browned. Just as with a soufflé, the gourgere will deflate once removed from the oven. Cut into wedges, like a pie, and serve immediately.