The mild sweetness of shallots and the fresh crunch of spring onions complement the arrival of warm weather and a season of rebirth.
Spring onions are genetically identical to the common onion, says Wayne Mininger, executive vice president of the National Onion Association. But they look and taste different because they are planted very close together and harvested prematurely to give a milder flavor than a common onion, he says.
Though spring and green onions are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between them. Spring onions have larger leaves and are harvested after a small bulb has formed. Green onions are harvested before any bulb has formed.
As a milder part of the onion family, shallots complement many foods well, says Will Boggs, executive chef of Cafe de Paris in Columbia. "It gives a more well-rounded and robust flavor rather than a plain, old onion," he says.
Shallots, olive oil and garlic are often used as a base for sauces. Caramelized shallots can be served on their own or as an accompaniment to an entree like steak, Boggs says. Try substituting a shallot for an onion in a Thai red- or green-curry recipe for an interesting flavor, he says.
When preparing shallots, first make sure they are not sprouting. Cut off the top and peel off the dry, outer skin.When chopping, cut down to the root end, then discard that end, says Kim Reddin, a spokeswoman for the onion association.
Chef Ian Stanford of the Wine Market in Baltimore advises against putting shallots in the food processor because it could release the essential oils and flavor too early. Instead, dice and crosscut them, he says.
Though shallots work well as a flavoring ingredient, spring onions are best used as a garnish. "The wonderful thing about spring onions is their mild flavor," says Stanford. "They add a nice crunch."
Spring onions go well with rice, pasta dishes, fish and salad mixes. Raw spring onions hold onto their flavor, adding color and texture to a dish. They also can be cooked and added to Asian-style soups, says Boggs.
Spring onions need to be washed thoroughly with cold water to remove any dirt on the outside. To keep spring onions crisp, place them in a shallow plastic container filled with water the same day you plan to use them, says Boggs.
Wrap them loosely in a moist towel and place them in the refrigerator crisper to keep them fresh for up to seven days. If you put them in water, don't cut off the roots until just before you use the onions, says Boggs.
For an attractive finish to any dish, cut off the green tops of the spring onions and then cut thin, lengthwise pieces about 3/4 of an inch up from the bottom. Put the onion slivers into water. They will curl up and make a nice garnish, Boggs says.
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
5 shallots, sliced 1/4 inch thick
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Preheat a 9-inch nonstick fry pan with a heat-safe handle on medium-high heat. Add oil.
Add shallots. Stir occasionally until the shallots are lightly browned, approximately 4 minutes. Spread the shallots evenly over the bottom of the pan.In a bowl, beat the eggs well and add salt and pepper to taste. Pour them into the pan. Place the pan in the oven on the middle rack.
Remove when the center of the frittata has set and is no longer runny, about 8 to10 minutes. Allow the frittata to rest for 1 minute. Turn the pan over quickly onto a serving plate. Cut into 4 servings and garnish with parmesan cheese and fresh basil.
Courtesy of executive chef Will Boggs of Cafe de Paris in Columbia
Per serving: 360 calories, 26 grams protein, 26 grams fat, 10 grams saturated fat, 4 grams carbohydrate, trace fiber, 500 milligrams cholesterol, 663 milligrams sodium
Shallots should be firm without any discoloration, says Eddie Nichols of the produce department at Whole Foods Market in downtown Baltimore. The skin should not flake away.
To select a good spring onion, look for one that has a full green color without any yellowing tips. The white part should be firm.
Shallots should not go in the refrigerator. Keep them in a cool, dark place at room temperature, Nichols says. They should not be exposed to direct light. Shallots can last up to a month if stored properly.
Keep spring onions in the refrigerator. Stored in produce bags, they can be used for up to two weeks. Otherwise, they can last about a week when stored bulbs-down in a drinking glass that is filled halfway with water and placed in the refrigerator. It's best not to put spring onions in the refrigerator without some protection.