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Julie Robinson's Table Talk: Chive in: the onion's unassuming cousin

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I've been going a little crazy with chives lately. The bunch I planted last spring wintered over and is now a healthy stand topped with pale purple blooms. The blooms are edible as well as the chives, although they do indicate that the plants are mature and the leaves are not quite as tender as younger plants.

The humble chive leaf is most commonly used chopped and sprinkled over baked potatoes, à la Wendy's. Those desiccated bits of dark green bear little resemblance to recently harvested leaves.

This is all fine for you, Julie, you say. You have a healthy supply in your garden. Well, you can have one, too. Plant vendors at farmers' markets, garden centers and sometimes even the produce section at the grocery store offer herb plants, including chives. Plant one in the ground or in a pot for your own fresh supply.

Chives are in the allium family, and are milder than its cousins, including garlic, onions, scallions, leeks and shallots. Although all parts of the chive plant are edible, chives are typically cut off at the soil level, leaving the roots to send up new shoots for future harvest.

I read about an interesting use for chive blossoms, which are in full bloom right now: Fill a one-quart jar about half full with white vinegar. Cut the blossoms as they open and submerge them in the vinegar. The plant will produce blossoms more quickly when the mature flowers are "deadheaded," or snipped.

When the jar is full of vinegar-covered blossoms, cover the jar and let the mixture steep for at least two weeks in a dark, cool place. The blossoms will fade to white and the vinegar will become bright pink. The blossoms infuse the vinegar with a delicate chive flavor.

Chopped chives lend understated flavor to butters and cream sauces, and couldn't be easier to make. Just mix chives into softened butter or cream cheese to take the mundane ingredients up a notch.

Chives' flexible stems make great edible ties for bundling foods such as in asparagus spears in a cream sauce recipe below. Tea sandwiches, rolled pieces of salmon and colorful bunches of steamed haricots verts, red pepper slices, pea pods and yellow squash make an elegant presentation when tied with chive leaves.

To prolong chives' freshness, whether they're freshly cut or purchased from the produce section, rinse them thoroughly in cold water, wrap them in paper towel, seal the moist packet in a plastic bag and refrigerate. Chives will stay fresh at least a week with that treatment.

I recently made the chicken, potato and cherry tomato recipes below, but couldn't quite bring myself to use the 1 1/2 sticks of butter required in the buttermilk chive biscuit recipe. I've included it because of the rave reviews it received in the comments section of smittenkitchen.com.

Reach Julie Robinson at julier@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.

Sautéed Chicken Breasts with Creamy Chive Sauce

Recipe from eatingwell.com.

4               boneless, skinless chicken breasts, (about 1 pound), trimmed of fat

1               teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1/4            cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided

3               teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2               large shallots, finely chopped

1/2            cup dry white wine

1              14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth

1/3           cup reduced-fat sour cream

1              tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2           cup chopped chives, (about 1 bunch)

PLACE chicken between sheets of plastic wrap and pound with a meat mallet or heavy skillet until flattened to an even thickness, about 1/2 inch. Season both sides of the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Place 1/4 cup flour in a shallow glass baking dish and dredge the chicken in it. Discard the excess flour.

HEAT 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate, cover and keep warm.

HEAT the remaining 1 teaspoon oil in the pan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring constantly and scraping up any browned bits, until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon flour; stir to coat. Add wine, broth and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil, stirring often.

RETURN the chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until heated through and no longer pink in the center, about 6 minutes. Stir in sour cream and mustard until smooth; turn the chicken to coat with the sauce. Stir in chives and serve immediately.

Nutrition information:Per serving: 244 calories, 9 grams fat, 72 milligrams cholesterol, 1 gram carbohydrate, 26 grams protein, 0 grams fiber, 679 milligrams sodium, 334 milligrams potassium.

Sautéed Cherry Tomatoes

Recipe from eatingwell.com.

2                pints cherry tomatoes

2                teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

2                tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

HEAT oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.

ADD tomatoes and cook, stirring often, until the skins start to split, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat; toss with chives and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Nutrition information:Per serving: 48 calories, 3 grams fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 6 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram protein, 153 milligrams sodium, 355 milligrams potassium.

@recipe hed:Smashed Potatoes with Sour Cream and Chives

Based on a recipe from foodnetwork.com.

1 1/4        pounds Yukon gold potatoes (4 medium) unpeeled, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/4           cup low-sodium chicken broth, warmed

 1/4          cup reduced-fat sour cream

1 1/2        tablespoons chopped fresh chives

               Salt

                Freshly ground black pepper

BOIL potatoes gently until tender.

TRANSFER potatoes to a large bowl. Add the broth, and coarsely mash the potatoes. Stir in the sour cream and chives. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Asparagus Bundles with Creamy Chive Sauce

Based on a recipe in Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine.

2                pounds fresh asparagus spears, trimmed

1                tablespoon water

1/4           cup fat-free reduced-sodium chicken broth

1/2           cup (half of 8-ounce tub) cream cheese

1/2           teaspoon lemon zest

1/2           cup finely chopped chives

10            to 15 full-length chives for bundles (optional)

STEAM asparagus in microwaveable steamer in microwave set on high 4 to 5 minutes or until asparagus is crisp-tender.

HEAT broth in small saucepan on low heat. Add cream cheese spread; cook until cream cheese is melted and sauce is slightly thickened, stirring constantly. Stir in zest and chopped chives.

DRAIN asparagus.

BUNCH 4 to 5 spears and wrap each bundle with long chive leaf, tying them together.

TOP bundles with cheese sauce.

Buttermilk Chive Biscuits

Makes 12 servings. Recipe from smittenkitchen.com.

3                cups all-purpose flour

1                teaspoon sugar

4                teaspoons baking powder

1                teaspoon salt

1                teaspoon baking soda

3/4           cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

1/4           cup minced fresh chives

1              cup buttermilk

HEAT oven to 425°.

WHISK flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in large bowl to blend. Using fingertips, rub 3/4 cup chilled butter into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse meal.

STIR in chives. Add buttermilk and stir until evenly moistened.

USE 1/4 cup dough for each, drop biscuits onto baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart.

BAKE until biscuits are golden brown on top, about 15 minutes. Cool slightly. Serve warm.


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