There is nothing more welcoming in spring than a clump of fresh chives. The smallest species of the onion genus, Allium Schoenoprasum, is a choice edible herb, and the only allium native to both the Old and New World. Here in Maine, chives grow as a perennial, and self-seed themselves wildly throughout the garden.
Chives’ delicate onion flavor has been widely used in sauces and salads since the 17th century. Often recipes will interchange scallions or Welsh onions for chives, although the flavor of chives is much more distinctive.
I used to employ shears to clip the “grass” or chives, cutting about 2 inches above the base of the plant. This method of harvesting, although efficient, reduces the plant to stubble, and it loses its means to manufacture food for the roots. Because the leaves are vital for photosynthesis, I’ve learned to select a few outer leaves and cut these right down to the base.
The long green stem, or scape, will grow to 18 inches in height and produce a bright purple or pink-orbed flower. This blossom is also edible and makes a stunning and colorful addition to potato salad, soups, and eggs. Chive blossom vinegar can be made from loosely packing the bright purple flowers into a glass jar or bottle, covering them white vinegar and allowing the liquid to set for a week or two.
Nutritionally speaking, chives are rich in vitamins A and C. Their mild, onion flavor is a bright pick-me-up for any culinary dish. I feel so very Provencal-inspired whenever I cook with chives, as the herb is an integral part of the “fines herbes” of French cuisine, the others being parsley, tarragon and chervil.
Chives have a delicious affinity with eggs and cream. Think of scrambled eggs with chopped chives, and creamy chive omelets. Blend snipped chives with soft butter to garnish grilled meats and fish or spread on warm bread. Mix chives with cream cheese for a spread, add chives to make zippy yogurt, use chives in salad dressings and on steamed vegetables. The more I trim my chives, the more they seem to grow.
The recipe for Creamed Mushrooms with Chives is simple and elegant. Serve this dish for a spring luncheon, with crusty bread and cheese. Or top off a grilled steak or burger with these tasty, delicate onion-flavored ’shrooms. Creamed Mushrooms with Chives would make an extravagant tart under a lid of puff pastry.
Creamed Mushrooms with Chives
Makes four servings
4 Tbsps. unsalted butter
1 lb. mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
1 small onion, chopped (about ¼ cup)
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup chicken or vegetable stock
2 tsps. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsps. chopped fresh chives
Sea salt and fresh pepper to taste
Assemble ingredients and tools.
Chop the chives and set aside. Clean the mushrooms, trim the stem and cut them into rough quarters. Set aside. Peel and chop the onion.
In a large heavy skillet melt the butter until it starts to bubble. Add the quartered mushrooms and sauté the mushrooms until they give off their liquid. Continue to cook until the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are lightly browned. The whole process will take 5 to 10 minutes.
Stir in the onions and sauté until they start to soften.
Add the cream, stock, and lemon juice and simmer the mushrooms until the juices are slightly thickened, stirring frequently.
Stir in the chives. Season to taste with sea salt and fresh pepper.