Judy Ink - the food blog of Judy Schultz
Onions, onions
Friday, 16 March 2012 23:18

It's onion season, and as we drive the narrow roads between Waiuku and Pukekohe, we're treated to frequent whifs of harvested onions.  Field after field, the onions are there in their orderly rows, their tops neatly tromped and flattened for drying.

Samoan labourers do the hard part of the harvesting, which amounts to pulling the onions out of the ground, where they're left lying for several days so that, barring late rains, the tops will dry and the bulbs will cure in the sun. Within a few days, they'll be picked up by the onion trucks.

The favourite onion crop here is the Pukekohe Longkeeper, the famous golden-skinned, white-fleshed onion that grows so well in this red earth. There are two main varieties, the Longkeeper and the Early Longkeeper, both of which are marketed from here to all the South Sea Islands and Australia.

Longkeeper? Ten months! Unlike the softer, sweeter members of the onion family (delicate little Mauis, big, juicy Walla Wallas) these are true keepers.

The onion is an oddball vegetable, seldom featured on its own, yet it's impossible to cook well without it.

Think of onion soup, fried onions, pickled onions, and one of my favourite quickbreads, a simple scone base patted into a square baking dish, spread with sour cream (smetimes mixed with a dollop of mayo), generously topped with chopped onions that have been lightly fried.

Baked as a quick bread, served in squares, it's delicious with roast pork or any barbecued meat. It's also one of those very forgiving recipes that will be even better if you add some grated cheese, a few poppy seeds, even a second variety (or a third variety) of onion. You'll end up with a three onion cheese quickbread or some such. Terrific with soup.

Here's one such bread from the Rural Women of New Zealand:

Onion Cheese Squares

Serves 6 to 8

2 large onions, chopped

3 tbsp butter

1 1/2 cups flour

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 cup grated aged cheddar cheese (Tasty chese)

2 eggs

2/3 cup milk

1 cup sour cream

Fry onion in half the butter. Cut remaining butter into dry ingredients. Add half grated cheese. Stir in half the onion. Beat egg and milk. Stir into dry mixture.  Spoon into a buttered 8 x 8 pan. Spread with sour cream. Sprinkle with remaining onion, then remaining cheese. Bake at 200 C for 30 minutes, or until golden and bubbly. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes before cutting into squares. 

Add: Diced fried bacon; diced green onion; diced red onion; 1 tsp curry powder.

One of my alltime favourite onion side-dishes comes from Italy. The cipollini, a small, flat onion, is usually available in late summer, and definitely by Thanksgiving. Here's what to do, but remember that this dish can also be adopted to any small yellow onion, or to red onions sliced in quarters.

Cipolline Agrodolce

Serves 6

2 Tbsp. butter

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. brown sugar

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1 kg/2 lbs small yellow onions, peeled

1/2 tsp. salt

freshly ground black pepper

In a large pan, melt butter in olive oil. Add sugar and stir until it dissolves. Add the vinegar, and simmer until the mixture is syrupy.

Add onions. Season with salt and pepper. Lower the heat and toss the onions in the sauce to coat thoroughly. Cover and cook about 40 minutes, or until tender. Serve as a side dish to poultry.

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Now this is a luxurious dish, a Thanksgiving special worth waiting for.

Creamed Onions

Use the same small onions, either flat cipolline or the small round onions, slightly bigger than pearl onions. Peel them and cut a small cross in the root end. Simmer the whole onions roughly 15 minutes, until tender. Drain well. Make a basic bechamel sauce and season it with a small amount of Dijon mustard. Place whole cooked onions on a baking dish and cover with the bechamel. Bake at 325 roughly 30 minutes. Serve as a side dish to poultry.

Last Updated on Saturday, 15 September 2012 09:35