By Barbara Kobsar | Illustration by Charmaine Koehler-Lodge
The Allium genus is diverse and versatile, and in springtime, it gives us many gifts at the market from leeks, chives, and green garlic to spring onions and ramps (an Allium that grows wild on the East Coast).
Leeks are the largest and mildest of the Alliums. I use them to add an oniony sweetness to soups, stews, and pastas. Leeks can grow up to two inches in diameter and over 18 inches tall. The part growing under the surface of the soil keeps its pale color and remains tender and sweet, which is why cooks often cut away the tougher, stronger-flavored green tops. During their slow four- to five-month growing period, the multilayered shoots gather grit and dirt between their tightly coiled, flat leaves, so be fastidious when cleaning this vegetable. Trim away the rootlets and tops, leaving about three inches of the green portion. The tougher outer leaves can be sliced lengthwise into long, thin strips or crosswise into short, folded strips. Submerge the sliced leeks in a bowl of cold water and gently stir to remove any grit, then drain and save that gritty water for your garden. I like to braise leeks to enjoy the best texture and flavor.
Green onions and spring onions are simply immature bulb onions, which may appear as green shoots when young before the bulb forms. Scallions, on the other hand, are a particular variety of white onion that’s always harvested young. Aficionados contend that although green onions and scallions are interchangeable in recipes, scallions are sweeter and milder in flavor. I agree. Young, sweet-tasting spring onions often have a stronger flavor.
With a little trimming, the entire scallion or green onion is edible. Trim off the rootlets and an inch or two of the green tops. Rinse, dry, and line up several on a cutting board to cut crosswise into circles (or at an angle so they don’t roll away). The white part is great tossed into cooked dishes like stir fries and soups, while the green part makes a nice garnish.
Chives are the most delicate member of the group, but with their pronounced flavor, they are more likely to be treated as an herb and added like a garnish. Chive blossoms are edible and lovely tossed in salads or used as a colorful garnish. Chinese chives (or garlic chives) produce broader stalks and edible white flowers, and as the name implies, they have a garlicky flavor. They may be chopped and steamed or stir fried. ♦
Veteran journalist and cookbook author Barbara Kobsar focuses on traditional home-cooked meals using local produce. Find her at the Walnut Creek, Orinda, and San Ramon farmers’ markets selling her Cottage Kitchen jams and jellies made from farmers’ market produce.
Artist Charmaine Koehler-Lodge grows most of her family’s food in their rural Pennsylvania garden.
Leek, Chive, and Asparagus Frittata
Eggs, milk, and cheese plus a few cups of fresh seasonal vegetables are all you need for a frittata, which makes it an easy and nourishing one-dish, anytime meal. Chives, leeks, and asparagus are my picks this time of year, but you can rotate in different veggies as you have them.
Serves 4 to 6
- 8 large eggs
- ¼ cup milk or cream
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese (or cheddar)
- 2 tablespoons chopped chives
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 leek, trimmed, rinsed well, and thinly sliced
- 6–8 asparagus spears, washed, trimmed, and cut into 1-inch pieces
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, pepper, cheese, and chives in a medium size bowl. In an oven-safe skillet (8–9 inch) heat oil and butter over medium heat. Add sliced leek and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add asparagus and cook, stirring, for another 2 minutes. Add egg mixture and stir to distribute evenly. Cover skillet, reduce heat and cook until eggs are partially set, about 4 to 5 minutes. Uncover skillet and place in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until center is set and light brown.