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.