Just add chives

If there has ever been a vegetable or herb garden on the property where you live, chances are you have chives, popping up faithfully every spring in clumps of hollow grass-like shoots followed by purple buds and eventually fuzzy blooms.

One of several clumps of chives growing in my herb garden.

Don’t overlook these ubiquitous perennial herbs as a way to add some fresh onion-garlic flavour to just about any dish.
Need an example? Here’s three ways I used chives just last weekend.

Sauté mushroom in a little butter in a non-stick pan. Beat eggs with sour cream, 5 mL (1 tsp) or so per egg, salt, pepper and lots of chopped chives. Add egg mixture to pan. Cook over medium-low heat until eggs are nearly set, stirring gently at the beginning to speed things up. Add shredded havarti. When cheese is melted and eggs are set, flip one half of omelette over the other and serve.

Barbecue baked potatoes
Poke baking potato several times with a knife. Microwave on high for about 8 minutes, until soft, flipping once. Wrap in foil. Toss in the coals while you’re grilling your meat. Serve with sour cream and chopped chives.

Asian-style chicken thighs
To your favourite barbecue sauce (store-bought or homemade), add fish sauce, sriracha (rooster) hot sauce and a little sesame oil. Taste for heat and seasonings and adjust as necessary. Marinate bone-in skinless chicken thighs in sauce at least four hours. Grill or bake. Serve sprinkled with chopped chives.

When you trim chives, they will produce a second growth (and maybe even a third depending on the weather and your consumption) during the same season. Which means you can be picking and eating them in May (in an asparagus tart – recipe to come), August (along with lots of fresh dill for a new potato salad) and October (as a garnish for your roasted squash soup).


Garden report: Part 1

Tilling the vegetable garden.

Over the past two weeks, I planted my cold weather crops.
First, I had to harvest the last of last season’s parsnips, which we enjoyed tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted alongside some carrots.
On April 14, David rented a tiller from a local shop and, I say without hyperbole, it was the best $20 we ever spent. In two hours, he had tilled the entire garden, incorporating some of the decomposing leaves we applied in the fall into the soil (the rest went into the compost heap) and leaving lovely, loose dirt at least 30 centimetres deep, ready for planting.
I sowed seeds the next day: two rows of harris model parsnips, three rows of organic scarlet nantes carrots, two rows of organic rainbow swiss chard (with a bit of leftover standard green mixed in), a row of pak choi and a row of baby leaf blend organic lettuce. The greens are already sprouting.

Red and green lettuce is beginning to sprout.

In my herb garden, I sowed some curly parsley seeds I harvested off a second year plant (parsley is biennial) last fall.
I also dug trenches in anticipation of the giant jersey asparagus roots I ordered from Vesey’s. Growing this vegetable is an exercise in patience; I’m not expecting a real harvest until 2014. But I could not resist the appeal of a perennial edible that is ready to eat in May.

Young leeks.

April 21, during at an impromptu stop at Joe’s Market for some local honey, I bought three small pots of leeks and a large rosemary plant. This year, I may keep the rosemary in a pot and bring it in during the winter. But a row of leeks was planted in a shallow trench the next day. (The whites of leeks are created by covering the bottoms with soil as they grow.) I love leeks in soups, grain dishes and pastas (including David’s favourite mac ‘n’ cheese, which also features pancetta, gruyere and blue cheese). After reading in Lois Hole’s Favourite Vegetables that you can dig them up whole (with a shovel or two of soil) and store them in a box somewhere cool like the garage to eat all winter, I knew I had to give growing them a try.
Yesterday (April 24), the asparagus crowns arrived in the mail. I planted them in my pre-dug trenches this evening.

This year’s harvest has already begun, albeit very slowly, with herbs: A few chives in a lemon chive mayo for a piece of grilled pickerel; several sprigs of thyme in a potato onion soup; lots of cilantro (self-seeded) to balance the pickled onions in fish tacos.
To my surprise, a lone kale plant survived the winter and should soon have sprouted enough leaves to add to a vegetable soup.

Pesto perpetuo basil

The variegated leaves of the pesto perpetuo basil.

I’ve long been searching for basil that could match the enormous, fragrant and flavourful plants I found several years ago at Dufferin County grower. (I’m not going to name names since he confessed to smuggling seeds from Israel to nurture in his greenhouse.)
This season, I finally found success with some pesto perpetuo plants purchased from Richters Herbs in Goodwood.
The description on Richters website sounded promising: dense columnar growth and variegated leaves gives this basil a majesty and appeal like on other … the scent is a compelling floral blend of spice and lemon … because it never flowers, it never slows down, as basils usually do when they flower and set seed.
The plants have delivered. They stand about 80 centimetres now. I’ve used the leaves for salads, salsas, pestos, pizzas, marinades and more over the summer and the taste is both sweet and spicy — just like basil should be.
Before the first frost, I will pick the remaining leaves and blend with fresh garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil in the food processor.
I freeze this mixture in a thin layer in freezer bags, breaking off a chunk any time I want “fresh” pesto taste during the winter.
For some recipes, such as frittata or soups, I use it as is. For a traditional pasta sauce, I add grated Parmesan cheese and very finely chopped pinoli (pine nuts) or walnuts.

Bay oh bay

I grow more than a dozen different herbs in my garden: basil, thyme, variegated thyme, mint, catnip, oregano, chives, rosemary, sage, dill, tarragon, marjoram, cilantro, parsley and summer savoury. Many are perennial, a few self-seed so reliably I’ve only needed to plant them once and the rest I plant each spring, most often as seedlings.
But I’ve always considered my collection a bit incomplete. Until this spring, when I finally found and purchased a bay tree, well really, a small seedling. Because bay is evergreen — but won’t survive an Ontario winter — I didn’t plant it in the herb garden, but in a small pot. It spent the summer on our back deck and will moved indoors — likely to sunny spot in the kitchen — this fall. With proper care, it should live for many years.
Over the summer, my little bay has tripled its leaf count and grown several centimetres. I have not harvested any leaves as yet, but will probably pick a few over the winter.
Bay provides that je ne sais quoi to everything from soup stock to pasta sauce and I am looking forward to being able to add it fresh to my meals.

Potted bay tree.