Chive Talkin’

WHAT’S IN SEASON

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Photo: Craig Lee, CraigLeePhoto.com

CHIVE TALKIN’

Littlest onion cousin adds delicate touch of spring

BY GEORGEANNE BRENNAN

Springtime cooking from my garden always has a chive component, and that includes the chives’ lavender-colored blossoms, with their delicate onion flavor and aroma. They seem to be the perfect garnish for spring’s quintessential dishes of fava beans, artichokes, green garlic and asparagus.

I love the way the seasons of the garden do the work for me, like going to an intelligently curated boutique where everything goes together without a lot of rethinking or searching for just the right complement. In the garden, with those beautiful chive blossoms growing near the asparagus and not far from the artichokes, why would I look to garnish with, say, sunflower seeds or seek out cherry tomatoes at the market?

Chives, with their slender stems and mild flavor, are the smallest and most elegant member of the Allium genus, which counts onions, garlic, shallots and leeks among its number.

Like all alliums, chives are bulbous plants that, when they are mature and the bulbs are ready for harvest, put forth stems topped with a cluster of pink, white, lavender or purple flowers, but the chive alone is used culinarily for its thin tubular stalk rather than its bulb.

Snippets of chives are the classic garnish for Vichyssoise soup, and for baked potatoes and sour cream, of course, and they are an essential part of fines herbes, part of the French lexicon of seasonings. Fines herbes is typically a combination of finely chopped chives, tarragon, chervil and parsley, but may include young dill, in varying proportions; the key is that the fresh, green herbs have sprightly flavors that enhance delicate fish, poultry and egg dishes. The finely chopped herbs, combined together or on their own, are added at the end of a dish so those flavors, which quickly diminish with long cooking, keep their integrity.

A few springs back, I had a vision of an ethereal flan, a savory one, made with green garlic. It turned out just the way I hoped it would—light, almost shimmery, with just a hint of garlic—but it needed the perfect garnish. I went out to my garden and there it was: the first chive blossom of the season. I picked it, along with a few stems. I crossed three stems across each flan—I had made individual ones—then sprinkled each with a few chive blossoms. The garnish made a truly graceful presentation, and the flavor of the chives complemented the green garlic.

Green Garlic Flan with Chive Blossoms

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Photo: Carole Topalian

This delicate savory custard has a silky texture and the merest hint of garlic, enhanced by chive blossoms. Combined with a green salad, the individual custards make an unusual first course, but they also make a special side dish for a beef or pork roast.

Yield: 8 servings

INGREDIENTS

4 green garlic stalks

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

2 whole eggs, plus 1 egg yolk

24 chive stems, trimmed to 2 to 3 inches, the upper part only 1 to 2 chive blossom heads, separated into individual flowers

TO PREPARE

Cut off the garlic stalks and discard. Peel off the tough outer skin of the garlic heads and quarter the heads.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream to a simmer. Be careful to not let it boil. When the cream is steaming hot, add the green garlic, salt, pepper and thyme and immediately remove the pan from the heat. Let stand for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to infuse the cream. Taste the cream. If a stronger garlic flavor is desired, let stand for another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325º F. Fill a teakettle (or a pot if you do not have a teakettle) with water and bring to a boil.

In a small bowl or spouted measuring cup, lightly whisk the whole eggs and egg yolk just until blended. Pour about 1/4 cup of the egg mixture into the warm cream mixture while whisking constantly. Add the remaining egg mixture, whisking constantly until well mixed.

Using a chinoise or a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth, strain the custard into a spouted measuring cup or pitcher. Divide the custard evenly among 8 (3-ounce) ramekins.

Remove the teakettle (or pot) from the heat. Place the ramekins in a large baking dish and pour the boiling water into the dish to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Carefully transfer the baking dish to the oven and bake until a knife inserted into the middle of a flan comes out clean, about 30 minutes. The flans will be lightly browned on top. Remove the baking dish from the oven and then remove the ramekins from the water bath. Let cool to room temperature.

The flans can be served at this point, or the ramekins can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 24 hours. If refrigerated, bring to room temperature before serving.

TO SERVE

Run a thin-bladed knife along the inside of a ramekin to loosen the custard. Invert a plate over the ramekin and, holding the plate and ramekin firmly together, turn them over so the flan drops onto the plate. Lift off the ramekin (the flan will be browned side down). Repeat with the remaining ramekins. Garnish each with 3 chive stems and a sprinkle of chive flowers.

From the Davis Farmers Market Cookbook by Georgeanne Brennan and Ann M. Evans (Mirabelle Press, 2012)

Georgeanne Brennan is an award-winning cookbook author, journalist and teacher. Her new book, the Davis Farmers’ Market Cookbook, arrives this spring. Georgeanne’s food writing appears regularly in the San Francisco Chronicle and she teaches weekend culinary adventures at her small farm in Northern California. For more information about Georgeanne and her work, visit GeorgeanneBrennan.com.

WHAT’S IN SEASON

in Marin, Napa and Sonoma Counties

MARCH, APRIL AND MAY

FRUITS

Blackberries

Early cherries

Grapefruit

Kiwi

Kumquats

Lemons

Oranges

Raspberries

Strawberries

VEGETABLES

Artichokes

Asian Greens

Asparagus

Beets

Bok Choy

Broccoli

Cabbage

Carrots

Celery

Chard

Chives

Cress

Dandelion Chicory

Endive

Fava Beans

Fennel

Green Garlic

Herbs

Kale

Leeks

Lettuces

Mushrooms

Mustard

Nettles

Onions

Potatoes

Radicchio

Radish

Spinach

Turnips

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