Fresh Pick: Onions

Your weekly guide to seasonal fruits and veggies

July 25, 2014
onions

We are onion people, so my youngest daughter says, so every year I grow more than we can eat, and we still eat them all

It starts early in the spring. I order young onion plants in bunches called “sets.” Red and white, sweet and scallions, get planted in long rows of earth thawing in the spring sun. It's encouraging to watch an onion grow, because as it forms, its shoulders peek up out of the earth so you can watch it form and plump. 

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They send up the most beautiful sphere-shaped flowers that must be picked. Some we dry and save for the seeds and some end up in vases as beautiful, albeit pungent, arrangements. The green leaves can be picked and thinly sliced as a topping for buttered toast, a green hint of what’s to come, packed with vitamin C.

More from Fitbie: 10 Meat-Free Cooking Tips

Finally in mid summer after a few months of weeding and watching and guarding from bugs they are ready to be pulled. The sweet onions, like Walla Wallas, must be eaten immediately within a couple of weeks as they don’t last as long. The rest are “cured” which means drying the outer skin so it becomes a protective layer. This is done by hanging them in a dry warm room for a couple of weeks. Once cured they are stored in a well-ventilated space at room temperature, away from heat and bright light.

Apart from being delicious, onions are good to our bodies. They are a very good source of vitamin C, B6, biotin, chromium, calcium and dietary fiber. In addition, they contain good amounts of folic acid and vitamin B1 and K.

Red onions, yellow onions, and shallots contain flavonoids, which are pigments that give vegetables their color. These compounds act as antioxidants, have a direct anti tumor effect and have immune-enhancing properties. Onions contain a large amount of sulfur and are especially good for the liver, and have also been shown to significantly lower blood sugar.

In season: Thanks to their hearty nature, onions are grown and available year-round.
 
How to pick it: Avoid bulbs with bruises or blemishes, and choose firm, dry onions with shiny skins.

How to store it: If kept in a cool, dry, dark, place, they'll last from 3 to 4 weeks. Once you cut them, they should be wrapped in plastic or placed in an air-tight container, refrigerated, and used within a day or two.

How to use it: Onions make anything they grace their presence with taste better. In fact, they're so delicious that from frittatas to tacos to soups, 99 percent of all the recipes in our new cookbook The Family Cooks start with a chopped onion.

Recipe:
Roasted Red Onion Flowers from The Family Cooks
(Makes 6 to 8 servings)

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes 

This is a beautiful side dish that you'd think grown-ups wouldn't have to share, but since they're crisp on the outside and sweet on the inside, they're pretty irresistible to kids as well.

You'll need:
6 medium red onions or sweet onions, such as Walla Walla, skin on and roots intact

6 tablespoons olive oil

Salt (smoked is delicious here)

Herbs -- either a few bay leaves or a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme

Freshly ground black pepper

How to make it:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and position the rack in the middle.

2. Make a total of 4 vertical cuts in each onion to create 8 wedges still attached to the each other at the root end.

3. Drizzle a bit of olive oil into a small baking dish, then arrange the onions root-end down in it. Spoon the remaining olive oil into and around the onions. Sprinkle generously with salt, getting some into the center of the onions. Toss in the herbs.

4. Roast for 40 minutes. Rearrange the onions so that their petals open, and drizzle with a few spoonfuls of the caramelized onion juices in the bottom of the pan. Roast until the onions are tender on the inside with crispy bits on their outer petals, about 20 minutes longer. Season with pepper and more salt to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature as a side dish, or as dinner with a good cheese and a green salad.

Play with it:

* Nestle a little goat cheese or Fontina into the flowers towards the end of cooking.

* After roasting, drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

* Use leftovers to glorify absolutely everything.

Not sure what to do with your in-season produce? All summer long, our experts are bringing you the facts on the freshest fruits and veggies at your local supermarket.

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