By Barbara Beltrami
Will Rogers, that old comedian and homespun philosopher, once said that although an onion could make people weep, he had yet to find a veggie that could make people laugh; and Julia Child found it hard to imagine a civilization without onions. Carl Sandburg remarked that, “Life is like an onion; you peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep”; and Ulysses S. Grant said he wouldn’t move his army without onions. All wise people.
While I’ll never be quoted like these famous people, I will say that I can’t imagine being a cook without having onions on hand in my pantry. From ramps (actually wild leeks or wild garlic) to scallions to Vidalia onions, spring brings many varieties to us, but none is as sweet and easy on the palate as the Vidalia, in my opinion, the aristocrat of the onion family.
Pale golden and large, they make their appearance for a very short time, like right now, and even people who don’t normally like onions, love them. A nice slice of Vidalia on a hamburger or on a bagel with lox and cream cheese will bring you a great taste sensation. Stuff Vidalias, roast them with balsamic vinegar, or turn them into a hot dip or just use them in place of regular onions and enjoy their wonderful mild but savory taste.
Zucchini-Stuffed Vidalia Onions
YIELD: Makes 4 servings.
4 Vidalia onions
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups finely chopped zucchini
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried
¼ cup plain breadcrumbs
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400 F. Slice off top and a little bit of the bottom of onions. Place, top side up, in a shallow baking dish and cook for one hour, until soft, but not mushy. Remove from oven; lower temperature to 350 F. When onions are cool enough to handle, leaving a half-inch shell, scoop insides from onions.
Save and chop one cup for stuffing and the remainder for another use. In a medium skillet, heat oil; add zucchini, garlic, thyme and basil and cook, stirring frequently, until zucchini is tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in remaining ingredients. Carefully spoon mixture into onion shells; bake in same pan until tops are golden, about 20 minutes. Serve hot or warm with a mixed salad, garlic bread and any meat or fowl.
Hot Vidalia Onion Dip
YIELD: Makes about 5 cups.
Nonstick cooking spray
3 cups chopped Vidalia onions
3 cups shredded fontina cheese
2½ cups good mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat an ovenproof serving dish with nonstick cooking spray. Combine all ingredients and scoop into prepared dish. Bake 30 to 40 minutes until top is golden. Serve hot or warm with toasted focaccia and crudités.
Balsamic Roasted Vidalia Onions and Potatoes
YIELD: Makes 4 servings.
3 Vidalia onions, peeled and cut into eighths
4 medium-large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch wedges
13 cup olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar,
½ teaspoon sugar
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl toss all ingredients together to thoroughly coat. Place in a large, shallow roasting dish or pan (the size of a lasagna dish), cover with aluminum foil and roast 20 to 25 minutes, until potatoes are soft but not mushy and liquid is reduced to a glaze. Remove foil, toss to coat and continue roasting another 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot or warm with meat or fowl, and cooked greens.