Onions can make a strong impression

October 23, 1994|By Linda Cornett | Linda Cornett,Knight-Ridder News Service

3/8 TC They are the Jekyll and Hyde of vegetables.

Raw, they are tough guys, as in-your-face as a Nolan Ryan fastball. Thrust into the company of salad greens, they shout out their distinctive presence. Get too close, and they are sure to make you cry..

But, apply heat and they become softies -- limpid, sweet, compliantly melding into stew pot or stir-fry.

You gotta love a plant with that much personality. And we do.

Onion experts expect that in 1994, farmers in the United States will harvest 89,000 acres of onions.

Is it too much of a stretch to say that onions reflect the personality of their producers? Colorado onions are compact, concentrated as to flavor and aroma, patient and hardy in storage. They are built to last, not to intrigue with subtlety.

The new breeds, the Vidalias and Maui sweets, Walla Wallas and Texas 1015s, come from softer lands. Gentle growing seasons encourage them to swell with sweetness, diluting their bite. But their voluptuousness doesn't keep well.

People who think deeply about such things believe onions originated in Asia. They were very popular in ancient Egypt and, according to "Frugal Gourmet" Jeff Smith, were worshiped as minor gods. Spanish explorers spread the globular roots, and by 1750, onions had arrived with Europeans in New England.

Michigan and New York were the original onion capitals. The West Coast took over 25 years ago.

Everyone has a favorite use for onions. The first recipe is an old one I clipped from a magazine years ago.

Onion Pie

6 large onions, sliced

4 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 1/2 cups milk

top and bottom pie crusts

2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced

Cook onion slices in boiling salted water to cover in a large saucepan 10 minutes or until tender-firm; drain well.

While onions cook, melt butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Blend in flour, salt and pepper; slowly stir in milk. Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens slightly and bubbles 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Arrange onions on bottom pie crust; top with eggs; pour sauce over. Cut several slits in center of top pie crust; place over filling and pinch edges to seal in juices. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 35 minutes or until pastry is golden and juices bubble up near center. Serve warm.

The next recipe is from "Vegetarian Gourmet Cookery," by Alan Hooker (101 Productions).

Cream of Onion Soup

1 tablespoon butter

2 cups sliced onions

1/4 green pepper, chopped

1/4 bunch parsley stems, minced

1/2 stalk celery, chopped fine

1/2 teaspoon soup herbs

8 vegetable broth cubes

2 quarts milk

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Cook butter, onions, green pepper, parsley, celery, soup herbs and vegetable broth cubes in covered saucepan for 12 minutes. In separate pan, heat and cook milk and cornstarch until slightly thick. Add onion mixture to thickened milk and heat again over water, being careful not to boil or heat too much, as this will cause it to curdle. Serve with croutons and a sprinkle of grated cheese.

The next two recipes are from the National Onion Association.

Crusty Onion Bruschetta

1 French bread baguette (8 ounces)

4 ounces light cream cheese

1/2 cup nonfat or low-fat ricotta cheese

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons dried basil

1 cup canned pizza sauce

1 medium onion, cut into paper-thin wedges

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Split bread in half lengthwise. Pull out some bread from center of each half, leaving a 1/2 -inch shell (save for crumbs). Using a fork, ++ beat cheeses with herbs. Spread along length of both bread halves. Ribbon a snake of pizza sauce over cheese and make a single layer of onions on top. Sprinkle with Parmesan and bake on baking sheet at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until onion is tender and tips are slightly blackened, but crust is not too dark. Sprinkle with dry parsley flakes, if desired. Cut crosswise into narrow strips.

Chicken Onion Couscous

5 large yellow onions, sliced

3/4 cup water

3 pounds cut up chicken parts, skin and fat removed

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon pepper

couscous (see below)

Combine onions, water, chicken, cinnamon, cumin, salt and pepper in large saucepan. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes. Uncover pan and cook 30 minutes longer, stirring often and lowering heat if bottom starts to burn, until onions and chicken are meltingly tender. Make a ring of couscous on platter with chicken mixture in center. Garnish with fresh fruit such as grapes and oranges, with prunes and whole blanched almonds.

Couscous: Stir 1 1/2 cups (10 ounce package) couscous into 2 1/2 cups boiling water, cover and let stand 5 minutes or until absorbed.

The next two recipes are from "The Fine Art of Garnishing" by Jerry Crowley (Lieba Inc.).

Onion Cup

Peel the outside skin of a large, well-tapered onion. Saute whole onion in 1/2 cup butter over low heat until tender but still firm (about 10 minutes). Remove and drain.

When cool, cut in half across the middle. Carefully remove the inside sections, leaving 1/2 inch of outer shell. When ready to serve, fill with cooked vegetables like green peas, carrots, spinach, etc. The center layers of the cooked onion, which were scooped out, can be minced or chopped and mixed with other vegetables before filling the cups.

Onion Mums

Select a medium-sized, well-rounded onion. Avoid those with a double growth inside. Peel the outer skin off, leave the root end intact, but cut off any roots. Using a small, sharp knife, cut down through the onion, to the center, stopping about 1/2 -inch from the root end. Make a second cut about 1/2 -inch from the first; continue completely around the onion.

Place the cut onion in a bowl of steaming hot water. This will start the petals spreading. Let soak for five minutes, then place in a bowl of ice water to allow to bloom further.

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