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Spring Onions

April 21, 2015 - Radio Kitchen - Spring Onions

While prowling through the market last weekend, I noticed that there were a lot of wonderful vegetables available that play important supporting roles in our meals.  In fact, the whole family of spring onions offers enterprising cooks a lot to work with.

We're seeing bundles of chives for sale, a sure sign of spring.  The smallest and mildest member of the onion family, the "scape" or stem of the chives is what we go for.  The gentle pungency of chives adds a pleasant kick to your dishes.

Chives are super easy to grow, staying in production all summer long.  Just cut off a bunch and they start growing back.  Over winter, we cut the tops down to the soil line, and allow the bulbs to go dormant.  Then the following spring, they're back.  In my experience, chives are impossible to kill off.

The chive plant produces a very pretty purple flower that is a staple in dried flower arrangements.  The pretty little flower can be eaten, if you sort of chop it up a bit, or you can simply use it as a visual garnish.  If you want your plant to stay in production, cut it off before it fully blossoms.  Once the plant goes to seed, it will stop producing new stems.

Chives can be used fresh, or they can be dried.  We like to use a pair of scissors to cut short little pieces of chives for use in the kitchen.  Of course the long scapes can be left intact to use as a decorative garnish.

Chives are a wonderful addition to salads, soups, and any number of potato preparations:  baked, roasted or mashed.  We like to blend them with yogurt, sour cream or cream cheese to provide the base for a sauce or spread (just add a few other ingredients for a creative accent).

So is it a scallion or a spring onion?  Actually, there is a difference.  The true scallion has a long, narrow green scape that turns into a narrow white bulb at the bottom.  The spring onion has the same long green scape, but its bulb swells and become much rounder and fuller; sort of a miniature onion.  The growing season for scallions is long, but the spring onion is only around for a few weeks, so buy it quickly.

How much of the scallion do you use?  First, you should peel off any tough dry layers on the stem, leaving only tender green leaves.  After trimming the hairy roots, you can use the entire plant.  A lot of people like to trim up a spring onion and then grill it quickly to get a lovely burst of flavor from the bulb.

Both scallions and spring onions are heavily featured in Asian cooking.  Chopped up, they are a fine addition to a stir-fry.  They also make an appearance in the stuffing for wonton and egg rolls.

Perhaps the most elegant of the spring onions is the shallot, a vital ingredient in any serious kitchen.  They represent a sort of cross between an onion and garlic.  The flavor, whether raw or cooked, is subtle and refined.  It makes a definite statement but it never dominates.

Shallots are easy to spot in the market, looking like little skinny onions.  They have a thin papery wrapping which varies from tan to pinkish brown.  The flesh of the shallot is creamy white, often with a hint of magenta.

Shallots are easy to caramelize, making them useful for savory sauces.  They have a natural affinity with vinegar, giving us the basis for the famous béarnaise sauce.  This variation on hollandaise adds a powerful dollop of reduced vinegar that has been infused with minced shallots.  The vinegar is strained, and added to the egg and butter mixture to give it a tangy edge that goes well with meat.  Quite often the
cooked shallots themselves are folded back into the sauce, giving it a bit of texture.

If you want to keep shallots on hand for easy use, buy a whole bunch of them, peel them and then dice them.  Place the diced shallots in a glass bottle with a tight lid, and cover them with olive oil.  Then you'll have them on hand anytime you feel a little creative.

Here are a few recipes that call on our spring onions:

                Chive Butter

1 pound (for sticks) of unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped greeen chive scapes            

1.  Allow the butter to come to room temperature.  In a bowl, work the butter until it becomes soft and malleable.

2.  Sprinkle in the chives, and blend them into the butter until they are uniformly spread out.

3.  Lay a sheet of plastic wrap on a smooth flat surface.  Scoop the butter onto the plastic wrap, then mold and roll it into a cylinder.   Roll it up tightly, and tie off  the ends.  Refrigerate before using.


                Grilled Spring Onions

4 fresh spring onions, cleaned and trimmed
olive oil
salt and pepper
crumbled goat cheese
lemon wedges

1.  Trim off the long green scapes and reserve.  Slice the onion in half lengthwise. Brush with olive oil.

2.  Place the onions flat side down on a medium hot grill.  Grill for about 5 minutes, until the onion softens.  Turn them over and grill and additional 3 minutes.

3.  Place the reserved green scapes on the grill and cook briefly, until tender.

4.  Serve grilled onions on a plate, seasoned with salt and pepper, and garnished with the scapes, crumbled goat cheese, and lemon wedges.

                Classic Béarnaise Sauce

1/4 cup fresh tarragon, finely minced
2 shallots, peeled, trimmed and finely minced
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3 egg yolks
1 stick butter, melted and clarified
pinch of salt
pinch of white pepper

1.  Place the tarragon, shallots and vinegar in a small sauce pan, and reduce the liquid by one half.

2.  Place the egg yolks and the reduced infused vinegar into a food processor. Blend together at a slow speed.  With the processor running, gently pour 1/3 of the clarified butter into the sauce, allowing it to slowly emulsify.  When the egg sauce has absorbed the butter and incorporated in, turn up the speed of the blender, and slowly add the remaining butter along with the salt and white pepper.

3.  Keep the sauce warm and serve with steaks.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.