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Onions in All Their Variety

August 18, 2015 - Radio Kitchen - Onions in All Their Variety

Of all the varieties of produce that are grown in Maryland, one of them happens to be ubiquitous world-wide.  And that's the onion.  I've tried and tried, but I can't think of any cuisine anywhere that doesn't rely on this most savory of vegetables.  And as Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Schola Cooking School agrees, there seems to be a special onion for every conceivable use.

The most basic separation of onions is by color.  We have red, white, and yellow.  By far the most commonly encountered are yellow.  Onions vary in size from super jumbo to tiny creamer onions.  Here are a few of the most common varieites.

Spanish onion:  the typical round yellow onion with a thin skin.  Ubiquitous in the US.  Very much an all purpose onion.  Usually used in cooking.

White onion:  big and round and white, this is a tangy onion, less sweet than the yellows.  It is perfect diced in Latin American dishes (think chili con carne), or sliced thin and raw for salads.

Red onions:  these retain a red interior layer, and make a visually striking component in salads.  The sharpest flavor of all the onions, they usually need some sort of modifying ingredient to soften their flavor.  Think of cream cheese on a bagel with sliced red onions.

Sweet onions:  here's the famous Vidalia and Bermuda onions, much prized in cooking for the pronounced sweetness it brings to a dish.  Perfect for stews, they literally dissolve after a few hours of long slow cooking, and form the basis for a delicious pan sauce.  This is how I make lip-smacking  Hungarian goulash.

Cippolini: a small, squat onion with distinct sweetness.  Perfect for roasting whole.  Great as a component in tomato sauce.

Pearl onions:  tiny and mild, they are often an important supporting player in a cooked dish.  A typical recipe would be pearl onions and peas in a cream sauce.

Here are a few ideas Jerry came up with for using fresh Maryland onions:

                    Onion Jam


¼ cup olive oil
4 large red onions, halved, peeled, and cut into thin (1/4-inch) slices
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups dry red wine


½  cup honey
½  cup red wine vinegar
Juice and a few grates of zest from 1 lemon, optional


In a medium sauté pan, heat the oil until it begins to smoke lightly. Add the onions and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook until the onions give up their liquid, 3 to 5 minutes, and then add the red wine.

Lower the heat and cook the onions until the wine reduces almost completely. Leave on low heat while you prepare the gastrique.

In a separate small pan, heat the honey until it begins to bubble and froth. Cook until the honey turns a light caramel color, an additional 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the red wine vinegar, simmer for a few minutes on low heat, and then shut off the heat.

Pour the honey mixture over the onions and continue cooking them over low heat until all of the juice is absorbed and the onions are a jam-like consistency, 10 to 15 minutes.

If you desire, add lemon juice and zest at this point. Taste for seasoning and transfer to a bowl to cool until ready to serve.

                Roasted Cipollini Onions


2 quarts water
4 pounds Cipollini onions
4 rosemary sprigs
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
Rosemary sprigs for garnish

Preheat oven to 475°.

Bring water to a boil in a stockpot. Add onions; cook 30 seconds. Drain; cool. Peel onions; arrange in a single layer on a jelly roll pan. Top with 4 rosemary sprigs.

Combine wine and next 4 ingredients (wine through honey), stirring with a whisk. Pour wine mixture over onions. Bake at 475° for 30 minutes, turning twice.

Remove onions from pan with a slotted spoon. Carefully pour cooking liquid into a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 3 minutes or until mixture is the consistency of a thin syrup. Pour over onions; toss well to coat. Garnish with rosemary sprigs, if desired.

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.