When I was a little kid, Thanksgiving and Christmas were spent at my grandparent’s house. The one memory that is crystal clear (other than opening presents part) was celery stuffed with cream cheese. My grandmother would make a platter or two, and it was my job to run around carrying said platter and offer it to the adults who were hanging around waiting for dinner to be done.
The reason I mention this is not to talk about holiday meals in the middle of May, or the delights of stuffed celery, but rather because on top of that celery were tiny tasteless dried green specks. These were chives. Freeze-dried and shaken out of a spice bottle, utterly devoid of flavor, they weren’t anything to write home about. Chives, by the time I was toddling around in the 1970’s were firmly entrenched in popular culture, along with paprika and curly parsley, as food stuffs that were “strictly for looks”.
Now I know that fresh chives are amazing, easy to grow, and look great in an Adirondack garden. Chives will grow in just about any conditions, including our often sandy acidic soils, sport beautiful purple flowers, and even tolerate shade (a major issue for us). Herein lies the problem- or the beauty- of chives. The bounty. After a few years they’re easy to divide, and soon enough you have masses of chives and need to find some other way to use them other than to snip a few into an omelette, or to make the top of a macaroni salad look pretty.
There is a bit of buzz in the culinary world about using herbs other than basil for pesto. I had made up some cilantro pesto, and it was delicious. I thought, why not chives? I did a cursory search of the internet for a recipe, and sure enough, there were ways to make and use chive pesto galore.
It is a pretty simple recipe. One cup (chopped) chives, 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, stems removed (you need to cut the onion flavor a bit, and flat-leaf parsley does the job nicely) 1/2 cup olive oil, 3-4 cloves garlic, and 6 tablespoons of chopped walnuts (or pine nuts, but they’re expensive). Place into a food processor (I use one of those mini-choppers, it is just the right size and much less clean-up than a full sized processor), hit the button and in about a minute, Presto! Chive pesto. It tastes fantastic over roasted potatoes (cut and roast potatoes tossed in a little oil in oven and when they are almost done, takes potatoes out, toss in pesto, and place back in the oven for about three minutes). Also tastes very good on baked salmon- spread pesto on top of fish, bake in oven for about 15 minutes, done.
With Memorial Day looming around the corner, and the chives growing like mad in my garden, my mind turned to traditional warm weather party fare. I decided to cook up one of my favorite cold potato concoctions, Salad Nicoise. In the traditional French version, a variety of raw vegetables is placed on a platter on top of mixed greens, topped off with tuna and anchovies, sprinkled with Nicoise olives and vinaigrette is drizzled over the top. In the 1950’s and 60’s, French cooking at home became very popular in the U.S., spurred on by the efforts of Jacques Pepin and Julia Child, among others. It is Julia Child who is credited with introducing cooked cold potatoes to the recipe. I wanted to make a Nicoise Salad for the weekend, but I wanted to figure out a way to use up a significant amount of chives in the process. I also wanted to skip the tuna and anchovies part. So I came up with the idea of placing shrimp sauteed in Chive Pesto on top, and tossing the salad in a Chive-Lemon Vinaigrette.
The beauty of this dish is not only that I could use my chives, but also that it gives me an opportunity to use some of my very favorite olives, which come from of all places, Oscar’s Smokehouse in Warrensburg. Oscar’s is famous for their smoked meats, but they have some other fantastic concoctions as well. Demurely set in among the cold cuts and salads is a bin full of their own olive mix, which is a medley of different kinds of green and black olives in an herbed olive oil. Take my advice- if you get a chance to stop into Oscar’s, get yourself a container. They are mellow and flavorful, a far cry from the bitter or overly salty olives you buy at the grocery store.
Salad “Nicoise” with Lemon-Chive Vinaigrette and Shrimp Sauteed in Chive Pesto
There is a lot of prep work to this salad, but the great thing is you can do everything the day before, and assemble just before serving. This salad is great both cold and at room temperature.
2 lbs baby red potatoes, boiled until soft (but not mushy!) cut into bite-sized pieces
2 cups steamed green beans, ends removed and cut into bite-sized pieces
3 cups roasted cauliflower florets (place florets in bowl, and toss with 1-2 tbsps of olive oil. Crack black pepper over top. Place on a cookie sheet in a single layer in a preheated 450 degree oven and roast for about 20 minutes, until soft & brown. I usually roast for about 15 minutes, take out of the oven-the cauliflower that is pan-side down will be nicely browned. Flip the florets & place back in the oven so the other side can brown, about 5 minutes)
1 cup halved grape tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup Oscar’s olive mix
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced or quartered, according to preference
Make a batch of chive pesto, recipe above
1 lb jumbo raw shrimp, peeled and deveined. Immerse briefly in boiling water just until shrimp turns pink. Take 2 tbsps of chive pesto, place in saute pan and “melt” (the oil will separate out). Place drained shrimp in pan, toss in pesto, and quickly cook until slightly browned, about 1-2 minutes. Do not overcook or shrimp will become tough. (You will have a lot of leftover pesto for another meal)
LEMON CHIVE VINAIGRETTE:
2/3 cup roughly chopped chives
4 tbsps rice wine vinegar (white or champagne vinegar would also be good)
4 tbsps lemon juice
2 tsps granulated sugar
1 medium to large garlic clove, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
Cracked black pepper, to taste
Place all of the above ingredients in a blender, hit “puree” and blend until emulsified.
Place cooked potatoes in a bowl, and toss in about 1/3 of a cup of the vinaigrette. In another bowl, toss the green beans and tomatoes in about 1/4 cup vinaigrette. Allow to sit for at least 20 minutes. (If you are going to prepare everything ahead of time, the potatoes can sit in the vinaigrette for up to a day in the fridge. I would not mix the green beans & tomatoes in the vinaigrette until time of assembly- they will get mushy ). Take out a good sized serving platter, and layer potatoes on bottom. Next, layer green beans & tomatoes. Follow this with roasted cauliflower. Place cooked shrimp on top of this, then sprinkle olives over top. Now arrange hard-boiled eggs. Garnish with snipped chives and flat-leaf parsley, if desired. Serve, with left-over vinaigrette on the side for anyone who likes extra dressing on their salad.