Simply put, onions have to be one of the most universal of all vegetables; extraordinarily versatile, readily available in a multitude of cultivars, inexpensive, healthy and delicious, they are delicious fried, baked, roasted, boiled, grilled, eaten raw on burgers, sliced and diced into salads chopped chunkily into a salsa, they are an integral component to a mireppoix, caramelized into classic French soup and are even at home whilst garnishing a Gibson. And they’re even a fast food/junk food favourite; battered and deep fried as onion rings or exploding onion blossoms, they manage to steal a little thunder from the french fry.
It’s hard to think of a vegetable that has so many ordinary and extraordinary uses yet still manages to fly under the radar when talk arises of favourite foods, but for us here at Fiesta, if we are ever stranded on a desert island, we hope to be able to grow onions there. Whether the onion is the main attraction or part of the process, no savoury dish seems complete without it, and the smell of onions sautéing in butter is one of the most comforting of savoury aromas, a promise that good things are coming.
The common onion, allium cepa is used on a daily basis by chefs everywhere, and the most widely used cultivar is the yellow onion, sometimes referred to as cooking onion, or brown onions, since they brown beautifully when caramelized. Red onions are wonderful on the grill, and also work beautifully in a classic fresh salad like this tomato, red onion and cucumber with crumbled Feta salad
White onions like the Vidalia Onion- a trademarked name based on the place of origin (Vidalia, Georgia)-are sweeter than yellow or red onions, and also make great additions to salads and sandwiches, and even shine in desserts like Sweet Onion Pie!
Other members of the onion family, like scallions (green onions) and chives are best for garnishing salads and soups and are best eaten raw in this manner or as a last second addition to a stir fry. A wonton soup without some just-chopped scallions adorning its shimmering surface is a sorry sight, and a fall classic like Roasted Butternut Squash Soup without a garnish of snipped chives just doesn’t look as inviting.
Happily for us, onions, in their myriad forms, are also very good for us, high in sulfur-containing compounds and linked to cardio-vascular health as well as contributing to bone density and connective tissue support. Furthermore, the onion’s unmistakably recognizable anti-oxidant, quercitin provide anti-inflammatory benefits as well.
Whether it is a culinary classic like French Onion Soup, or an old, familiar and humble comfort food like boiled onions with white sauce, there is an onion for every culinary occasion, every foodie. A day without orange juice I can handle; a day without an onion…not so much. With that in mind, here, just in time for fall weather, is an elegant turn on a classic dish, courtesy of MarthaStewart.
Creamed Onions with Sage
8 cups water
2 3/4 tablespoons coarse salt, divided
2 bags (10 ounces each) pearl onions, unpeeled
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 sprigs fresh sage (with about 16 leaves)
Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan, then add 2 tablespoons salt. Add onions, and cook until just tender, about 12 minutes. Drain. When cool enough to handle, trim root ends with a paring knife, and pop onions out of their skins. Let dry on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet.
Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, and whisk until mixture bubbles slightly but has not started to brown, about 1 1/2 minutes. Slowly whisk in milk. Raise heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil, whisking frequently. Stir in remaining 3/4 tablespoon salt, the nutmeg, and sage. Reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 12 to 15 minutes.
Stir in onions, and cook over low heat until heated through, 5 to 10 minutes. Discard sage, retaining a few leaves for garnish if desired.