Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Herb of Spring

Most people associate basil with summer, and I'd have to agree, if for no other reason than it's such a great partner for bursting ripe tomatoes. But right now it's spring, when the weather is just beginning to warm, and the days of Caprese salads and raw tomato sauce are a speck in the distance. We'll get there. And until we do, may I suggest you embrace the herb of spring: chives. Like basil, chives are a spicy herb, though in a different, more assertive way. A member of the allium family, they pack an onion-y punch. In fact, I was recently in the forest with a friend, and had absent-mindedly been munching on some chives. A few minutes later, she commented that she could smell them on my breath. So. Maybe not first date material. But I still ardently recommend chives as an assertive, yet fresh and grassy way to experience Spring cooking.

One of the most glorious things about chives, and the reason I so closely associate them with Spring, is that they literally spring up everywhere this time of year. They grow wild in the woods, but also in yards and along sidewalks. Chances are, even if you live in an urban area, a walk around the neighborhood will lead you to chives. I first noticed chives weeks ago, when we were still getting snow. These babies are relentless. So let them into your kitchen.

My favorite way to use chives is to make them into pesto. This is a labor of love; I've found the best way to make it is in a mortar and pestle, not a food processor, as the long grasses tend to not actually get chopped. What I do is snip the long strands into small pieces with scissors and then smash them up in the mortar with some salt and olive oil. I've found that using some water with the olive oil helps create a nice pesto that saves money without sacrificing flavor. A squirt of lemon juice rounds out the flavor. My favorite use for this is as a dip for French fries or roasted potatoes--salty, fresh, and divine.

Today, however, I was in pasta kind of mood, so I poured the pesto over spaghetti, adding some Parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper. The noodles were tinted green and spicy-fresh.

Simply put, chive pesto is a revelation. There is nothing quite like it. It manages to be silky and spunky at the same time. So, go for a walk. Find some chives. Eat them, and taste Spring.

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