I love all alliums, and some of the finest appear in spring. These would be chives, ramps, green garlic, and garlic scapes.
In spite of my shady backyard and miserable soil in Sag Harbor, the chives and parsley return first, making me feel like a gardener. I snip them both constantly to add to salads, roast birds, baked potatoes, any vegetable dish, egg salads, grilled fish, and so on. When the chives produce their beautiful lavender-colored flowers, these too go in and on everything savory.
Last fall my wonderful neighbor, Stacy, gave me some Egyptian walking onions, which I immediately planted in my community garden plot at Bridge Gardens, and because of that I have also had plenty more alliumosity to play with. I am still confused by this alien-looking species, but they are fascinating to grow and watch as they curlicue and bend and eventually spread themselves through the garden, hence the name “walking” onions. A month ago I was treating them like scallions, which is what the plants looked like before they went cuckoo. I would chop and sautÇ them with my never-ending supply of spinach. Quite a splendid pairing, I must say! When ramps make their brief Greta Garbo-esque appearance at a few farms, they make sweet music with local asparagus, which grows at the same time.
Some members of the allium family are kind of a pain in the arse to prepare. Have you ever had to peel a gazillion pearl onions for a Thanksgiving side dish? Leeks, one of my all-time favorites, are expensive at the store, and require meticulous washing of each layer to get all the gritty sand out. And you can only use about one-third of the stalks. However, you can freeze the darker green ends to make stocks.
I use so much garlic (and I’m so lazy) that I buy the little plastic containers of already peeled garlic cloves. To me this is like the convenience of a screw top bottle of wine. I also always have some local garlic, still in its papery heads. Quail Hill Farm and Open Minded Organics always have excellent garlic. Minced garlic in jars is disgusting, please do not ever use this. I can always tell if a restaurant has used this on a pizza or in a clams and linguine dish, it has an old chemical flavor, like the difference between Rose’s lime juice and freshly squeezed. No comparison.
Shallots are also at the top of the list of favorites, they really impart a different flavor than onions. When cooked, they become mellow and sweeter.
Harold McGee, in his “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen” describes various alliums thusly: “onion flavor typically includes apple-like, burning, rubbery, and bitter notes; leek flavor has cabbage-like, creamy and meaty aspects, while garlic seems especially potent because it produces a hundredfold higher concentration of initial reaction products than do other alliums.” He recommends rinsing chopped raw onions to remove (or at least tame) the sulfur compounds which become harsher with time and exposure to air. The volatile chemical known as the “lacrimator” is what attacks our eye and nose nerve endings and makes us cry.
Sweet onions, especially Vidalias, are a real treat but are too difficult to grow here. They are great served in thick slices in a tomato salad or on top of a burger. There are other sweet onion varieties such as Walla Walla (which apparently do grow well in Long Island soil), Texas 1015s, Maui, and Oso Sweets. Their harvest times are staggered, so you are likely to be able to find one kind or another at the markets year round.
All types of alliums are good for you, especially for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. They are also good for gut health because they contain probiotics, the compounds that feed the micro-organisms in fermented foods, known as probiotics. Studies have shown that garlic and onions have antibacterial and antiviral properties and their phytochemical can improve immune health and reduce the risk of developing cancer by preventing inflammation and cell damage, according to the American Institute of Cancer Research. What better reasons do you need to add extreme flavor to your daily diet?
Garlic Scape Pesto This recipe for garlic scape pesto is from an old issue of Saveur magazine. If you can’t find garlic scapes, you can substitute green garlic or a combination of garlic and chives. Makes one cup.
1 cup finely chopped garlic scapes (or 1/3 cup fine chopped chives plus\ 1/3 cup finely chopped garlic) 3/4 cup olive oil 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese 1/3 cup roasted salted cashews Salt and pepper to taste
Purée all ingredients in food processor (except for salt and pepper) until finely chopped. Then taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper.
Pommes de Terre a la Quercynoise This is a classic French potato dish. I would suggest adding more parsley than the recipe calls for. Serves four.
1 1/2 lbs. Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/4-inch chunks 3 Tbsp. goose or duck fat Kosher salt 1 Tbsp. chopped parsley 2 tsp. chopped by hand garlic
Cook potatoes in boiling salted water for three minutes. Drain completely and shake dry in a colander. Melt the fat in a baking dish and add potatoes in one layer. Bake in a preheated 300-degree oven for two hours, turning potatoes in the fat from time to time. Allow all sides to turn crusty-brown. Raise oven temperature to 375 for the last 15 minutes of baking. Just before serving, sprinkle with salt, parsley, and garlic.
Shallots á la Pink House My friend Cheryl Schultz invented this dish on the spot while visiting our family’s pink house one summer. Hence the name. I like to use this more as a condiment than a side dish, it is intensely flavorful.
15 large shallots, peeled 1 cup white wine or old flat champagne 1 cup beef or veal stock Ground black pepper 2 Tbsp. butter
Braise shallots with above ingredients until almost tender. Boil off liquid as necessary over high heat.
Add: 1/4 cup red wine vinegar 1/4 cup turbinado sugar 1 tsp. fennel seeds 1 tsp. Mrs. Dash seasoning Ground black pepper
Grilled Onion and Goat Cheese Tart This recipe is from an ancient Los Angeles Times article. Grill some extra sweet onions next time you are barbecuing and save them to make this tart. Makes eight servings.
1 1/2 lbs. sweet onions Olive oil One 10-inch baked tart shell 1/2 lb. soft mild goat cheese 2 eggs 1 1/2 cups half-and-half Salt and pepper 1/2 lb. walnut halves
Cut onions, with skins on, into halves. Remove skins, leaving roots intact; this will help hold onions together while grilling. Brush onions with olive oil and grill over medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes or until tender. Place onions, flat side down, on cutting board. Trim off roots and any burned spots and cut each onion into 4 to 6 wedges. Arrange wedges in tart shell, points toward center.
Cream goat cheese in large mixing bowl. Beat in eggs and half-and-half. Season with salt and pepper and pour over onions. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.
Arrange walnut halves on tart in concentric circles and bake 20 minutes longer or until custard is set and inserted skewer comes out clean. Let cool to room temperature before serving.
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Post time: Jun-18-2020