Tender herbs are popping up all over my garden and it’s making me positively giddy with excitement about spring even though it doesn’t officially arrive until March 20. Our mild El Nino-influenced winter has given the garden a jump-start and it’s gotten me out earlier than ever in anticipation of a long growing season. At this point I’m mostly cutting away dead growth from last summer but I’ve discovered the tiniest little herb sprigs and even a clump of full-fleged chives, all begging to be brought into the kitchen. Herbs love to be pinched and eaten and will reward you with even more robust growth throughout spring and summer.
As it turns out, the exact herbs I’m finding — parsley, chives, tarragon & chervil are also known as fines herbes and are a mainstay in French cooking. They’re mild, delicate, blend well together and can’t withstand intense heat or prolonged cooking. Their flavors shine with a very light touch, leaving the woodier herbs like rosemary and thyme for heavy-duty stews and braises. If you have herbs in your garden or in pots, you may want to grab your scissors and check their progress because it’s very possible you’ll have some that are ready to be eaten. Grab a handful of chives and cut them off at the base — they’ll grow back like grass. If you divide your chive clumps, place them around the garden to repel insects. Their flowers are attractive to bees so you get the best of both worlds — insect repellent and pollination, not to mention a flavor that works well in salads, sauces, eggs, potatoes or fish.
One of my great pleasures is having my brother, Jon, fix me a breakfast of scrambled eggs. I’ve watched him many times and have never been able to cook them as light and fluffy while almost creamy as his. I used a recipe for Softly Scrambled Eggs with Chervil & Chives in the Herbfarm Cookbook and these were the closest in texture I’ve come to Jon’s. The recipe cooks the eggs in a stainless bowl on top of a pot of boiling water, like a double boiler. Jon doesn’t go to all that trouble but does use a rubber spatula as they do. He doesn’t stir the eggs too much and takes them off the heat before they’re completely cooked. Somehow they’re always perfectly done but having my little brother cook for me is surely part of the perfection.
While looking through the Herbfarm Cookbook, I saw another old favorite of mine — Green Mashed Potatoes, an equally good use of fines herbes. Creating a version of pesto with 1 cup parsley, 1/2 cup chives, 1/4 cup olive oil and 3/4 teaspoon salt, you have a sauce to use on fish, in an omelet or as I did, stirred into mashed potatoes just before eating them. I couldn’t resist loading them up on a plate with plenty of butter and sitting down for lunch (after taking this photo, of course).
The point I’m trying to make is that you don’t have to make anything fancy with the lovely little herbs. As a matter of fact, their delicate flavors will be lost on anything too complex or heavy. Just chop some up and throw them into your favorite vinaigrette, toss them into a salad or even tuck a few into a grilled cheese sandwich.
Fine Herbes Vinaigrette
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 T minced parsley
1 T minced chives
2 t minced chervil
2 t minced tarragon
1 T minced shallot
Salt & freshly ground pepper
Put it all in a jar and shake.
Just keep it light, keep it easy. So fine and so local.