Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Thursday

March 27, 2014

From the Farm: Onions the unsung hero of spring dining

It’s time for the least inspiring of all the vegetables — storage onions.

I blame the teary eyes and savory smelling fingers and cutting boards for why some treat onions with such disdain. And I’m here to say, “lay off.” Onions are amazing.

They are the first seeds started in the early spring. Jess just planted the first seeds a couple of weeks ago. They will be transplanted in late May, if the ground thaws. And they will grow until the tops wilt back in mid-July. The onions will then cure in our hoop houses until the skins are papery and then store in the barn to last the rest of the year. It has always wowed me that the seemingly most common of the vegetables has such a story.

The storage onion is never a prima donna, unlike the tomato. It just waits for you to love it. It is one of the very few foods that if I suddenly find I am without, I’ll pack up everything and go to the store.

Storage onions create a base of flavor for soups and roasts. They slow cook to sweet, soft perfection. They provide an acidic bite when eaten raw. Meanwhile they fill our body with minerals, vitamins B, C and E, and quercetin that fight disease. Sweet onions have the same flavor and health benefits, just less. They have higher water content in their cells that dilutes the sulphenic acid.

They are less “sweet” and more “watered down” in my book, so give me a stinky one.

The following two recipes highlight how an onion balances rich and sweeter flavors. In the first, the raw bite of a thinly shaved onion is all the acid that a salad needs to temper the creaminess of cheese and density of dried cherries. In the second, the onion is transformed with a long, slow cook in the oven to be sweet and soft. A splash of vinegar and it is still the perfect foil for Leelanau Raclette but in the opposite way to the first.

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