Monday, August 31, 2015

Culinary Corner: Onion Options

This installment may be a bit off of the regular Sunday schedule, but it makes it no less useful and interesting!  Elizabeth focuses on some options for using some of the excellent onion crop coming in at the farm this season.  We hope you enjoy reading about some different options for the onions our members receive.  And, the crop is good enough that some of these onions may appear in other venues this year! [RF]

A recent harvest at GFF
It seems like almost every recipe I made in school started with "sweat an onion.***" Onion appears everywhere, from mirepoix as a flavor base for stocks and mother sauces, to basic stir-fries, but not all onions are created equal. There are three basic kinds I'd like to focus on: Standard white onions, red onions and sweet onions. On GFF, you may recognize these as White Wings, Red Wings, and Ailsa Craigs, respectively. [ed. note: A fourth variety on the farm are the yellow storage onions, this year the varieties are Dakota Tears and Sedona]

The biggest difference between the red and white onions and the sweet ones is sulfur. Sulfur compounds are those annoying, naturally-occuring chemicals in onions that make you cry, and that give raw onions their acrid bite. These can be cooked out of regular onions, but you won't find as much of them in sweet onions. For this reason, sweet onions are my go-to slicers for sandwiches and salads. I tend not to cook with sweet onions, but they are also very good in stir-frys where all the vegetables still have a bit of crunch to them. [ed. note: A GFF favorite is to grill rings of Ailsa Craigs on the grill with hamburgers]

Ailsa Craig Exhibition sweet onion

So what about those red and white onions that are showing up in your shares? Here are a few ideas beyond the standard "chop and sweat."

Red Onions

Red onions add a pretty pop of color to whatever you're cooking and you'll often see them sliced thinly in salads, or used in salsas. One of my favorite ways to prepare red onions is by pickling them. The acid of vinegar or fruit juice turns the muted red into a vibrant pink and adds a sharp, bright taste to whatever dish you add it. I have two versions, a traditional apple cider vinegar recipe, and a citrus version that uses lime and orange juice. Try both and pick your favorite!
Redwing Onions

"Traditional" Apple Cider Vinegar recipe:

Citrus Pickled Red Onions:

If pickling isn't your thing, I also love turning red onions into a jam for a sweet topping to savory dishes. Red onion jam is really good with cheese and meats and the recipe is relatively fuss-free. I like this one here from a user on AllRecipes:

White Onions

My absolute favorite onion recipe comes from my mom's best friend. Her family is French and every year for New Year, she makes a huge pot of French Onion Soup. She'll start early in the day on NYE and we'll eat a bowl at midnight for good luck. I got the recipe from her and I love it for cool fall days when a hot bowl of soup with oodles of melted cheese warms me from head to toe.

White Wing Onions
Marlaine's French Onion Soup

3 lbs onions
3 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
1 gal of beef broth
olive oil for sauteeing
loaf of French Bread
1 lb Gruyere**
1 lb Swiss**

Peel the onions and cut into 1/2" slices. Saute in a large pan with olive oil. Add the butter and saute until golden. Add the flour, stir and cook about 5 mins more. Slowly add ~1/3 cup beef broth and mix until well combined. Transfer to a large stock pot and add remaining beef broth. Add salt/pepper to taste. Cook on med-low for a couple of hours. To serve, pour hot soup into an oven-proof bowl. Add about 1/2 cup shredded cheese and top with a thick slice of toasted and buttered French bread. Top with another generous helping of cheese and broil until golden.

**Note: Gruyere is a flavorful aged cheese that doesn't melt very well on it's own. When combined with a mellow cheese that does melt well, like Swiss, you get all of the flavor and none of the gritty chunks of stubborn cheese that refuse to melt. Marlaine recommends shredding the cheese the night before and laying it out on a cookie sheet to dry out a bit. It's less stringy when it melts!
*** Also Note: Sweating an onion for those who do not know, we found this website had a decent and simple explanation for sweating vegetables [RF].

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