I once managed a farmers market in central Pennsylvania. I loved that job overall, but trust me when I say there is a high level of anxiety when farmers are setting up shop for that first outdoor market in spring when the weather may have turned the corner, but most of the new harvest is still months away. Juicy tomatoes, ripe berries, fresh peas, green beans, corn on the cob are all easy to sell. The anxiety lies in wondering whether shoppers will show if the long-stored root vegetables, dried beans and hot house lettuce we’ve been eating all winter long are all that’s for sale.

Knowing what I know, I am a shopper who shows up during the shoulder season of early spring in Maine. I show up because I know the effort it takes for a farmer to haul whatever they do have to offer to the market, and I know the income gained this time of year helps keep farms operational until the summer bounty makes its appearance. I want to encourage them and buoy their finances, but I also want access to their fresh herbs, which are among the few plants that are abundant now.

Cilantro, chives, dill, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme are easy to grow in greenhouses in shoulder-season temperatures. Plus, since many herbs flower and bolt as the weather gets hot, this may be the best time to buy them. So I buy bunches and bunches of herbs now and use them in several ways to give an interesting new twist to the last of last year’s stored root vegetables.

Homemade chive oil. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Take chives, for example. These wispy members of the onion family are certainly a great topping for baked potatoes. But unless you’re serving baked potatoes to an army, you’re likely use only a half dozen stems in the bunch. Chive oil is one way to use up the rest. This electric green, oniony condiment can be shaken into a salad dressing, drizzled over a pizza and stirred into a creamy root vegetable soup.

To make it, blanch a 4-ounce bunch of chives in salted boiling water for 2 minutes. Plunge them into ice water to set the green color. Drain and squeeze hard to get the remaining water out. Whiz them in a blender with 1/2 cup flavorless oil, like canola or grapeseed. Pour the mixture into a small pot and simmer for about 10 minutes until the surface of the liquid is calm – you are cooking the water out of the oil. Strain the mixture through a coffee filter into a clean jar and store it in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.

A drizzle of chive oil adds visual and palate appeal to potato-and-parsnip soup. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Another way to use up a bunch of herbs is to make pistou, the chunky, French close cousin of Italian pesto. The condiment originated in the Provencal region, where it’s stirred into a summer vegetable soup. Pistou has evolved to be used as a pasta sauce, to slather over grilled meats like a chimichurri, or as a springy complement to yet another tray of roasted root vegetables.


The word itself derives from the Latin “pestare” which means to pound. While you can make pistou in a food processor, making it with a mortar and pestle will help preserve the fresh green color. I employ a molcajete, the traditional Mexican vessel for making guacamole, as it’s large enough to accommodate the herbs. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, it’s better to chop the herbs with a knife than to use a food processor.

Traditionally, pistou is made with basil, like pesto, but I like to use a springtime mix of parsley, chives and thyme. The ratio comprises three cups of loosely packed herbs and three cloves of garlic to 1/2 cup olive oil. You pound the herbs and garlic in a mortar and pestle before adding the oil. From there, I freewheel a bit by adding chopped nuts, lemon zest (not the juice as the acid can turn some herbs black), grated cheese, and salt.

Pistou is best when it’s eaten within one or two days of being made. To keep it longer, cover it with a thin film of olive oil and store it in the refrigerator. If you’ve made a big batch, freeze it in an ice cube tray for perfect portioning.

Roasted root vegetables with a side of Spring Herb and Cashew Pistou. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Roasted Root Vegetables and Spring Herb and Cashew Pistou

Serves 4 with some leftover pistou

2 pounds root vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, radishes, rutabagas and turnips
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper
3 cups mixed herbs, such as basil, chives, dill, parsley and thyme
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped nuts, such as cashews, almonds or walnuts
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons grated alpine cheese


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Wash, peel and cut the root vegetables into 1-inch pieces.  Cutting them evenly will ensure they roast evenly. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Spread the vegetables on a baking sheet. Roast in the hot oven until tender and slightly browned, 20-25 minutes.

While the vegetables roast, take 1 cup of herbs and pound them into a paste using a mortar and pestle. Pound 1 garlic clove into the herbs. Repeat that process until all the herbs and garlic are incorporated. Stir in 1/2 cup olive oil, the nuts, lemon zest and cheese. Season with salt to taste.

Serve the pistou alongside the roasted vegetables.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the former editor of Edible Maine magazine and the author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: cburns1227@gmail.com

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