Today we’re going to talk about the “O” word. No, not THAT “O” word! lol!
Onions! Onions are a versatile vegetable that can stand alone or added to dishes to create an added layer of flavor. Often misunderstood and mistreated, today’s blog will address some of the common questions and give you some handy tips! Be sure to read to the end where I post an absolutely orgasmic recipe for an onion side dish! (Sorry! I couldn’t resist the joke!) Every time I make it, there are never any leftovers….no matter how much I make. Darn!
The most common and reasonable question is what are the differences between all the dry onions at the store? The big sweet ones, the red ones, and the yellow ones? If a recipe calls for a Walla Walla sweet, can a yellow onions be substituted, for example?
Fresh onions are the green or spring onions with the long green tops. These are often added to fresh salads and cold dishes for color and for kick or bite. They deliver a spicy hit when they are fresh. Sometimes a recipe will only call for the white bottoms and not the tops. You can substitute a dry onion in its place if you wish but the pieces won’t be so delicate. In a cooked dish, it isn’t going to matter either way.
Shallots look like dried out green onions as they are small and similarly shaped. However, shallots are much sweeter and have a mellow flavor. They are related to onions and garlic and contain more flavonoids and phenols than their cousins. They are popular with the gourmet crowd and are typically more expensive as well. Solution? Grow your own! They are easy and will store for at least 6 months. (http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-411/426-411.ht)
Now about dry onions: yellow, sweet, white, red, cipollini! Briefly, yellow or storage onions are the least sweet, have thicker skins and tend to be the most spicy or hot. Sweet onions (Walla Walla, Vidalia, Supersweet, Maui) have thinner skins and are considerably more fragile than storage onions. Sweet onions must be refrigerated. Because of their much higher sugar content, they do not have the same bite as storage onions and are great used fresh in salads. Red onions are often called for because they add color to recipes, particularly when used fresh. Cipollini (Cheep-oh-lee-nee) or wild onions are a flat onion that originated in Italy and have an intense sweet flavor, especially when roasted. They are especially delicious! All of these onions can be used interchangeably in recipes.
Note: When purchasing onions, they must be dry and have ZERO odor. If they smell, they are rotting somewhere inside and you don’t want them!
Why are onions so often used in recipes or why should I care? The simple answer is that onions add a layer of flavor. I keep talking about “layers of flavor” because that is a big reason why we perceive foods to be delicious that is, IF the layers are added appropriately. In other words, savory layers go together and sweet layers go together but you have to be VERY careful if you start mixing the two! Onions are savory and for that reason, are often added to meat and vegetable dishes to add more complexity and deliciousness (and if raw- bite!) to a dish.
Costco problem? Or what do you do when you have a wheelbarrow full of onions and they are going to rot before you can possibly use them all? My favorite solution is to dice the onions and saute them in good olive oil till softened. Let them cool and put into ziplock snack bags or 1/2 to 3/4 cup portions and freeze. The next time you need sautéed onions for a recipe (or you want to add another layer of savory flavor to a recipe) simply pull a bag out of the freezer! Yes, it takes a chunk of time when you first chop and saute a 15# bag of sweet onions from Costco, but trust me…every time you pull one of those pre-cooked bags out of the freezer, you are going to be doing the happy dance!
And for all those folks who need ANOTHER reason to add onions, research has shown that onions have powerful antioxidants (quercetin and Onionin A–a unique sulfur molecule in onion found in the bulb portion of the plant) which can be very helpful controlling inflammation. Additionally, studies have shown moderate consumption of onions (3 times per week) reduces risk of certain cancers! Who knew! (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=45)
Now are you ready for a scrumptious onion recipe? This is guaranteed to make an onion-lover out of a (former) vegetable-hater! lol This recipe was originally out of the FoodDay section of the Oregonian, November 21, 2006. The following recipe includes a sherry caramel sauce that can be used for a whole lot more than this recipe- salads, basting meats, even topping ice cream! (Really, it’s that good!)
Roasted Cipollini Onions with Sherry Caramel Sauce
Sherry Caramel Sauce:
2 c. granulated sugar
1 c. water
2 c. sherry vinegar
In a heavy sauce pot, combine the sugar and the water. Over a medium flame, heat the sugar and water mixture, periodically swirling the pan and cooking until the caramel is the color of cola. Add the vinegar. STAND BACK as it will hiss and spatter! Stir and simmer the caramel for 8 minutes dissolving any lumps that may have formed as you go. remove from the heat and let it cool. This makes more than enough for the onion recipe below.
40 cipollini onions
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 fresh organic rosemary sprig, 5 to 6 inches
6 springs fresh organic thyme
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
1/2 c. finely chopped Italian (flat leaf) parsley
Trim the onions and remove the outer papery skin. To speed the process, drop them in a pot of boiling hot water for 60 seconds. Pull them out and the skins should slip right off! Grease a heavy baking dish with butter or olive oil.The baking dish should be big enough to accommodate the onions in a single layer.
Toss the trimmed onions in the olive oil, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper until evenly coated. Spread them around in the greased pan and bake in a hot oven (400 degrees) until golden and tender, approximately 40 to 50 minutes. Remove the herb springs and add about one cup of the caramel sauce to the onions and carefully roll the onions in the sauce. Return the pan to the oven and raise the temperature to 450 degrees. After 5 minutes remove the pan from the oven, carefully stir the onions to coat them in the sauce, and return the pan to the oven. repeat two more times until the onions are evenly coated with the caramel. Add the parsley, toss again, garnish with some pretty rosemary and serve. Uh…slip some into a dish and hide in the fridge if you want any leftovers! I learned that the hard way! 🙂
PLAN B: Just throw some lovely balsamic vinegar in with the olive oil and herbs and roast/baste till done. Delish! Either way, I guarantee everyone will be wanting what YOU are having!