2016-09-08 / From The Garden

Onions, Nothing to Cry About

By Cynthia Gibson

If you have ever looked through favorite cookbooks or sifted through your stacks of saved recipes from magazines or newspapers, onions are usually in every dish, except for desserts, obviously. Onions are here to stay.

Onions are the backbone of savory dishes in almost every cuisine. They are part of the huge family of allium, which includes garlic, scallions, shallots, leeks, and chives of many varieties. The distinctive odor is produced by their content of water and sulphur.

The onion is an amazing root vegetable. It can make you cry, can put the yum in delicious, and can make you purr when a sauce is perfect.

This is the time of year that onions are pulled from their beds. They have been growing since May and should be sizing up really well. Once out of the ground, let onions dry in the sun for up to a month until the outer layers of skin become paper-like.

If you have ever looked at an onion seed, you really wonder how they can grow into such huge bulbs. The seeds are primarily black and about the size of a tiny sugar ant. They develop into a small bulb, or “bulblet.” Buying bulbs saves months of greenhouse hours or over-wintering our onions. They are sold as sets; a set of onions is simply a bag of small onion bulbs. They are a little larger than a roasted almond. Sets are sold in the spring at nurseries and home and hardware stores.

What kind of onions did you plant this year? I planted the large red varieties. There are three no-fail red onions that can grow up to a pound: Giant Red Hamburger (always a favorite with very dark red skin; excellent tangy flavor); Salad Red (a very fast grower, with ovate bulbs); and Red Delicious, which has a bright red skin and very white interior.

There are three other categories of onions: yellow, white and bunch. Bunch onions are commonly known as scallions.

Yellow onions are sweet and mild flavored, but they can still make you weep. The yellow onions bought in bags at the supermarket are known as storage onions; they are always growing in some part of the world. When pulled from the garden, yellow onions have a bite when served raw, but will sweeten right up when caramelized. They can melt and disappear right into a ragout or stew.

The variety known as the Vidalia onion, from Georgia, is the sweetest. They are great simply roasted in a little olive oil with salt and pepper.

White onions come in a variety of large white orbs, in addition to the tiny white pearl onions eaten with peas at Thanksgiving.

Bunch onions, also known

as green onions or scallions, are found in almost every East Asian dish. They are a staple in creating a delicious stir fry or can be eaten au natural, from the whole stem to the small elongated white bulb. The hollow stems are like gigantic chives, and their reediness makes them hold their shape and flavor in high heat. Tossed into a salad, they have just the right hint of flavor and are wonderfully crisp.

Whichever way you slice it, the onion is a basic ingredient you cannot live without. The next time you bake potatoes with rosemary, add slices of yellow onion. The aroma will beckon family and friends to the kitchen, and they will want to know what is cooking and when it will be ready.

The first of the late summer/early fall crop should be in the farmers markets this week, so get your fresh onions while you can!

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport.

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