Sweet onion breaks all the rules

Entertaining: Vidalias, with an average sugar content is sweeter that's higher than a cola's, make a fine summertime tart when paired with smoked salmon.

June 16, 1999|By Jimmy Schmidt | Jimmy Schmidt,Knight Ridder/Tribune

Today's lesson: Of all the flavors that return to us from the spring garden, there is nothing quite like the sweet taste of the Vidalia onion. Most of us don't associate sweetness with a member of the onion family, but the Vidalia breaks all the rules. Today, we will prepare one of my favorite dishes with these sweet onions: Vidalia Onion and Smoked Salmon Tart. It's perfect for summer entertaining.

What are Vidalia onions? The Vidalia onion is an ordinary yellow onion that develops an extraordinary sweetness. The Vidalia onion found at your local grocery each spring is so mild and sweet that it can be eaten like an apple.

Vidalias contain an average sugar content of 12.5 percent -- that's sweeter than Coca-Cola. The onions are the same yellow granex variety as most other yellow onions, but they don't develop the usual onion flavor because of the loamy soil and mild climate in which they grow. The onions, first grown in Vidalia, Ga., are planted in late November and allowed to mature during the cool winter, which assures slow, even growth. They mature and are harvested in May and June.

* Selecting your onions: Select dry-skinned and firm-fleshed onions. Sweet onions are high in moisture. They should feel heavy, but never moist or soft, which is a sign of bruising. Store them in clean hosiery with a knot separating them; onions tend to soften when they touch one another. Keep them in a cool place with good ventilation to prevent mold. Refrigeration will extend their shelf life.

* Preparing your Vidalias: There are a couple of great ways to prepare the Vidalia to ensure excellent flavor:

Grilling is a perfect way to produce a smoky flavor while maintaining an al-dente crunch.

Roasting or baking is the easiest way to unlock the delicate flavor.

You can serve Vidalias hot or at room temperature for an alfresco treat. They also are great when baked into muffins, tarts and quiche.

* Tricks of the trade: The Vidalia's wonderful sweet flavor will shine through in all cooked dishes as long as it is not overcooked. Overcooking will diminish the already low acid content, resulting in bland onions.

Vidalia Onion and Smoked Salmon Tart

Makes one 11-inch tart; serves 8

one 11-inch Short Pastry Tart Shell (recipe follows)

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

2 large onions, julienne

1/2 cup citron vodka, optional

4 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons grated lemon rind

2 cups half-and-half, scalded

1/4 cup snipped fresh dill

8 ounces of smoked salmon, thinly sliced, skin and dark fatty tissue removed, cut into 1/4-inch julienne strips

sprigs of fresh dill for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line the crust with aluminum foil, shiny-side down. Fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until set, about 30 minutes. Remove the weights and foil.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over high heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and saute until lightly browned on the edges yet still a little crunchy, about 10 minutes. If desired, add the vodka and cook until reduced enough to coat the onions, about 3 minutes. Remove and allow the mixture to cool slightly. In mixing bowl, combine the eggs, salt, pepper and lemon rind. Add the hot half-and-half and dill, stirring to combine.

In another bowl combine the cooked onions with the smoked salmon. Spread the onions and salmon across the pastry shell evenly. Pour the custard mixture into the tart shell. Bake until the custard sets, about 40 minutes. Cool on a cake rack for 15 minutes. Cut into pie-shaped wedges and serve with a sprig of fresh dill.

Per serving: 440 calories (63 percent from fat); 31 grams fat (17 grams saturated fat); 26 grams carbohydrates; 16 grams protein; 460 milligrams sodium; 275 milligrams cholesterol; 117 milligrams calcium; 2 grams fiber

Short Pastry Tart Shell

Makes one 11-inch tart shell

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter

pinch of salt

1 large egg

1 tablespoon grated lemon rind

about 1/4 cup ice water

In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour, butter and salt with your fingertips until the butter is broken into small pieces. Mix in the egg and lemon rind. Add as much of the water as is necessary until the pastry just sticks together. Flatten into a disc and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes. Dust the dough with flour, then roll out between sheets of parchment to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Trim and finish the edges, then refrigerate at least 30 minutes before baking.

Per serving: 196 calories (59 percent from fat); 13 grams fat (8 grams saturated fat); 17 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 14 milligrams sodium; 71 milligrams cholesterol; 12 milligrams calcium; 1 gram fiber

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