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Spring Onions at their Peak

Mar 11, 2015 06:42PM ● By Jennifer Neys

By Lesley Stiles 

While waiting with positive thoughts for more rain, we enjoy the phenomenon that happens when force-fed an early spring. Flowers are everywhere. Daffodils, tulips, lilacs, roses, citrus blossoms and jasmine scent the atmosphere, entering every cell of our being and creating smiles, relaxation and momentary bliss. Spring produce is beginning to dominate gardens and farmers’ market tables. Onions, garlic, and leeks beckon with promises of savory delights in sizzling butter, caramelizing magic into dishes of all kinds.

Subtle differences divide the chicks from the hens in the alliums’ world. Green onions, available year-round, are not to be confused with spring onions, available only in spring. Nature’s sweet previews of summer bounty are simply immature onions. Farmers specifically plant fields of onions for pulling young alongside fields of old timers destined for the golden drying rays of summer sun. Along with bad behavior, immaturity also brings eggshell white bulbs shaded with purple stripes that reach for elongated sweet shafts of tender green tops. You are mandated to use them in their entirely. As soon as you slice into a spring onion picked fresh from the field, the drops of sugar start to appear, offering a unique caramelizing experience in hot, sweet butter. Marinate perfect cremini mushrooms in pureed spring onion sloshed with fresh lemon juice, olive oil and chopped oregano. Spring onions create amazing music when tossed in olive oil and sea salt, grilled whole alongside an organic rosemary scented chicken blistering on a hot wood fire. Dice fine to mix with local white wine vinegar and coarse ground black pepper for a mignonette to pack up with a special bubbly, and trip up the coast in pursuit of briny local oysters. Definition: spring.

Royally statuesque and well known as a favorite of Nero’s, 4000 years of sweet-flavored leeks are ours to partake. Long cylinders of bundled leaf sheaths with blanched white innards and bright green tops, leeks are at their peak in late winter to early spring. You must cook the entire leek to understand the difference between the refined bottom-half and the subtle sweet top of this allium. Sautéed leeks and potatoes, classically combined with chicken stock and a touch of cream, then brought to a simmer for a bit and blended result in a velvety Vichyssoise. The end product of sautéing an entire leek in olive oil with shitake mushrooms, slices of chicken breast, and fresh tarragon illustrates the subtlety of the alliums and the need to habitually place them in our market basket. At the farmers’ market you may occasionally come upon a leek flower. This rare treat must be quickly and quietly swooped upon, taken home, chopped up, placed in a tart crust with whipped, salted eggs and chevre, and baked to golden, bubbling perfection. Chopped leek flowers lend mysterious flavor when sprinkled in green salads tossed with Roquefort dressing.

March is a great time to start thinking about your vegetable garden cooperatively with kids and family. My grandpa was a big organic gardener who lived in Oakland, so he was at our house in Pleasant Hill a lot in my mom’s big garden. He taught her, she taught us, and the chain continues. Get instant gratification from getting radishes and carrots into chilly soil now, along with late crop peas and lots of lettuce and kales. You may consider getting rid of your front lawn and planting fruits and vegetables with an efficient drip system for summer water conservation. Heavy mulch is a must, and if you know a tree guy, it is always free. Enjoy the trails and move it or lose it! Gratitude abounds on a daily basis when living in our valley.

Caramelized Onions

3 large red or white onions, sliced thinly

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Place butter in bottom of heavy saucepan and melt on medium high heat. Add onions and let sauté until they start to brown. Turn pan to low and let sauté for about an hour until brown and very soft. Add in balsamic and let simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Makes 1 ½ cups.






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