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About the Author MARTHA STEWART is America’s most trusted lifestyle expert and teacher and the author of more than 80 books on cooking, entertaining, crafts, homekeeping, gardens, weddings, and decorating. Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. BulbsGarlic Leeks Onions Ramps Scallions Scapes Shallots Spring OnionsAs Julia Child wrote, “It’s hard to imagine a civilization without onions.” Open any cookbook and you’ll see she’s right. Alliums (the botanical genus includes edible bulbs such as shallots, garlic, onions, and ramps, plus leaves like leeks, scallions, and chives) season many of our favorite dishes. And thanks to the proliferation of farmers’ markets, we now have access to a wider range of these aromatic gems. What’s more, in many places, early varieties start appearing just weeks after the thaw. Clearly, these bulbs are worth celebrating. But, because they are ubiquitous, long lasting, and fairly cheap, we have the luxury of taking them for granted.Like other underground vegetables, including roots and tubers, bulbs of the allium family stockpile the energy and nutrients a plant absorbs from the sun and earth. But bulbs store it primarily as sugars, not carbohydrates, which may explain why they go to such lengths to defend their treasures. Inside each cell, thanks to one of nature’s most brilliant defense systems, sulfur compounds are kept segregated from the enzymes that trigger them, divided by thin membranes; when the cells are broken—when you slice or bite into an onion, for example—the chemicals combine, creating the volatile gases that can make you cry.Sugar and sulfur: the harsh married to the sweet. It is precisely this intriguing balance that makes bulbs so delicious—and essential. These alliums lend a framework to other flavors, bringing structure and flavor to dishes—and perhaps even civilizations—the world over.SeasonalityBecause onions and garlic are available all year round, it’s easy to think they don’t have a season. But spring is when these vegetables push their tender green shoots up from the earth and begin forming a new generation of bulbs below. In April and May, look for young versions of onions, garlic, and their kin at farmers’ markets—mild and tender, they are excellent eaten raw. Spring onions, pulled from the ground before the bulbs have had a chance to grow (in early spring, hence their name), are sweeter and milder than regular onions and most similar in appearance to scallions—except they have a more pronounced flavor that makes them a better option for cooking and pickling than for eating raw. For garlic to produce the cloves we all know and love, the flower buds, or scapes, must be harvested in early spring. And lucky for us, these springtime delicacies are readily available at farmers’ markets and specialty grocers during the spring and early summer. Ramps, also known as wild leeks, are foraged from shaded, woody areas up and down the East Coast, from Georgia to Canada, and are heralded for their garlicky flavor. Their many fans eagerly await their first appearance at farmers’ markets, where you can find them from March through early June (though you can also cultivate your own). BuyingCommon onions and garlic are “cured”—harvested when fully mature, then dried for storage. Hardiness is key when selecting these vegetables, so at the market, give them a (very gentle) squeeze. Also, avoid bruises and mold, and shun dampness—the skins should be papery and dry. Select yellow onions for long braises and high-heat cooking; they have the strongest, richest flavor, and will hold up no matter what they’re paired with; white onions are slightly milder, and common in Mexican and South American dishes. Tamer still are red onions, with a touch of sweetness, making them the best choice for salads, sandwiches, and other dishes where they’ll be eaten raw. Among the first vegetables to appear at farmers’ markets after the snow melts, young, spring- and green-leafed bulbs—including scallions and ramps, as well as spring onions and so-called fresh (versus storage) onions, and garlic scapes—are a welcome sight; look for bunches whose greens are firm and stiff, their bulbs bright and glossy.Notable VarietiesOnions: White, yellow, and red are grocery-store staples, but it’s worth seeking out Vidalia and Walla Walla onions, the sweetest ones of all (especially when grown in sulfur-free soil), so they absorb none of the sharpness common to other varieties. Spring onions, planted in the fall and harvested in the spring, can be found at farm stands starting in March. They resemble scallions but have a larger bulb.Scallions: Look for purple-bulb varieties in the spring; they have the same flavor as white ones, but make a pretty garnish.Garlic: The garlic sold in grocery stores is intended for long storage rather than flavor, making it worth the trip to the farmers’ market to find other varieties that are usually only available from small growers. These local heads have larger cloves and a more pronounced flavor, and are sometimes sold still on the stalks; some have purple stripes or a reddish hue.StoringDark, cool, and dry is how cured bulbs like it, so store onions, shallots, and garlic on an out-of-the way shelf or in a cabinet. Light causes them to sprout, generating green tendrils within that draw nutrients and flavor from the bulb; moisture can cause mold to form beneath the skin (which can be wiped off) or between the layers of the bulb (where it can’t be). Leeks, spring onions, ramps, and scallions, meanwhile, should be refrigerated, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag, and used within a day or two.PreppingLearning to cut onions quickly and skillfully is one of the smartest things novice cooks can do to make kitchen life more agreeable. Remove the papery skin (it’s called the tunic!), and unless you want rings, slice the onion in half from top to root. Lay each half flat on the board and slice into the bulb first lengthwise, then crosswise. If you plan to serve onions raw—in a salad, say, or on a sandwich—first soak the pieces for five to ten minutes in an ice-water bath to remove the sulfur compounds generated on cut surfaces, or give them a brief soak in vinegar. For garlic, remove the paper sheath by gently crushing each clove with the side of a knife blade, then pull off the paper; remove any green “germ” from the cloves, as these are very bitter. Leeks, ramps, and scallions often need to have their tunics peeled away, too—and as these are fragile and clingy, they may require scraping with the edge of a paring knife. Then cut away the scruffy roots and slice if needed, separating the stronger-flavored white parts from the green, if the recipe requires (most do). Leeks hold onto a lot of grit in their many thick layers; cut them as directed in a recipe, then submerge in a bowl of cold water and swish thoroughly. Lift out the leeks and repeat until you don’t see any more grit in the water. Drain and dry if sautéing or roasting.CookingWith a high proportion of sugars, onions take well to being caramelized. Indeed, you can grill or roast them until nearly black before their flavor is ruined. But they are equally happy cooked low and slow—gently sautéed in butter or olive oil, or braised in a skillet. This is also the best method for cooking delicate-flavored leeks, ramps, and scallions, which all take well to a quick pass through a hot flame, giving the leaves a dramatic charred flavor that pairs well with meat. Ramps are excellent mixed into pestos and compound butters; sautéed and tossed with spaghetti or served over soft polenta; or treated like herbs, tucking them under the skin of chicken before roasting. As with onions, garlic’s multiple personalities are highlighted by different cooking techniques: Mince or smash raw cloves to add an assertive bite to salad dressings, pestos, salsas and relishes, and no-cook pasta sauces; sauté them until pale golden in butter or oil for a flavor that’s mild and mellow; roast a whole head in the oven until it turns mahogany brown for cloves that are buttery soft, rich, sweet, and earthy—and then spread the paste on bread, toss it with pasta, or incorporate it into dips, and sauces. Green garlic, which could be mistaken for an overgrown scallion, has a mild flavor that’s brighter and fresher tasting than regular cloves. Use the white and green tender parts of the stalk, trimming away any woody parts near the top.How to Roast(For all bulbs)Peel onions and shallots; quarter onions, leaving wedges intact, and separate shallots (halve larger ones, if desired). Trim scallions, leeks, spring onions, green garlic, and ramps; leave whole or cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces (wash leeks well). Place on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Strew onions and shallots with fresh thyme or rosemary, if desired. Spread in an even layer and roast at 450°F, tossing once or twice, until tender and browned in spots, 15 to 20 minutes. Drizzle with vinegar (balsamic, cider, sherry, or white wine) and sprinkle with herbs.(For garlic cloves)Separate garlic cloves, and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast at 425°F until skins are deep golden brown and flesh is very tender, 40 to 60 minutes. When cool enough to handle, slip out of skins, and use in dressings or sauces, or spread on crostini.(For whole garlic)Slice off top quarter of garlic head, exposing as many cloves as possible, with a serrated knife. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper; top with fresh thyme, if desired. Wrap in parchment, then foil, sealing to form a packet. Roast at 425°F until cloves are golden and very soft, 50 to 60 minutes. When cool enough to handle, squeeze head from bottom to push out cloves. Stir into mashed potatoes, whisk into vinaigrettes, or spread on sandwiches or crostini.How to Grill(For onions, scallions, leeks, spring onions, green garlic, ramps)Peel onion, cut all the way through root end into 8 wedges, or slice into ½ -inch-thick rounds. Trim scallions, spring onions, green garlic, and ramps. Trim leeks, halve lengthwise, and wash well. Toss with olive oil and salt and pepper. Cook on a medium-hot grill, turning as needed, until tender and lightly charred in spots, 10 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice or red-wine or sherry vinegar, drizzle with more oil, and top with chopped fresh herbs (parsley, mint, or basil).(For onions and shallots)Peel and halve or quarter, leaving onion wedges intact. Thread onto skewers; drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Cook over a medium-hot grill, turning as needed, until tender and lightly charred in spots, 45 to 50 minutes. Drizzle with red-wine or sherry vinegar while still warm.How to Braise(For all bulbs)Peel onions and shallots and trim roots, leaving bulbs intact. Halve or quarter onions, leaving wedges intact; halve shallots. Trim scallions, spring onions, green garlic, and ramps; leave whole or cut to fit into skillet. Trim leeks, halve lengthwise, and wash well. Heat butter or olive oil in a large cast-iron (or other ovenproof) skillet over medium. Add bulbs, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until golden brown, 2 to 5 minutes on each side. Add enough braising liquid (chicken or vegetable broth or water, or a combination) to cover and a few sprigs of thyme, if desired. Cover with foil and cook in a 350°F oven until tender, 30 to 50 minutes. To glaze the bulbs, remove foil, raise oven heat to 450°F, and continue cooking until liquid reduces, thickens, and glazes vegetables, 10 to 15 minutes more.Flavor PairingsOnions are used in such a wide variety of dishes it would be quicker to list the things they don’t go with than those they do. Garlic, too, lends character to an astonishing range of preparations. Shallots can be substituted for either in a pinch; their mild, sweet flavor makes them a classic in salad dressings. Scallions and especially ramps introduce spicy, fresh, green, almost herbal notes.Onions: chicken, meat, cheese, beer, wine, mustard, balsamic, thyme, nuts, greensSweet Onions: goat cheese, blue cheese, basil, cayenne, ginger, nutmeg, hamShallots: butter, tarragon, mustard, garlic, salad greens, vinegar, fish, dried fruitScallions: ginger, garlic, rice, eggs, bitter greens, butter, parsley, rice, tomatoes,Garlic: lamb, rosemary, tomato, lemon, feta, chicken, ginger, soy sauce, mushroomsRamps: asparagus, eggs, mint, morels, vinegar, lentils, potatoes, fish, ParmesanRoast Chicken with Onions, Shallot, Garlic, and ScapesRoasting chicken on a bed of onions achieves two things: the onions impart flavor to the chicken, and they become wonderfully darkened. We’ve included a bunch of different alliums in this otherwise straightforward recipe, for a host of flavors: sliced red onion, whole shallots, fresh chives, and garlic in two forms (cloves and scapes). All can be enjoyed alongside the chicken, with crusty bread.Serves 4 to 61 whole chicken (4 to 4½ pounds) Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper 1 bunch fresh oregano 1 red onion, thinly sliced 10 garlic cloves, unpeeled 6 shallots, peeled 2 bunches fresh chives 2 bunches garlic scapes1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Pat chicken dry and season all over with salt and pepper. Tuck oregano into cavity. Scatter onion, garlic, shallots, chives, and scapes around a roasting pan. Place chicken, breast side up, in pan, and tuck wings under. Tie legs together with kitchen twine.2. Roast chicken until juices run clear and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh (do not touch bone) reaches 165°F, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before carving and serving.Four-Onion Soup with GingerCaramelized onions are a remarkable flavor booster. Sliced thin to expose all their starches, onions slowly soften, turn a deep golden brown, and become wonderfully sweet. They are, of course, at the heart of French onion soup. In this update on the traditional recipe, we round out the flavors with three types of onion—red, white, and yellow—and combine them with an equal amount of shallots and a nice amount of fresh ginger.Serves 62 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for frying and toasts 1½ pounds each white, yellow, and red onions, thinly sliced lengthwise 1 piece (3 inches) fresh ginger, peeled and finely julienned 1½ pounds shallots, thinly sliced 2 tablespoons very thinly sliced fresh sage leaves, plus leaves for garnish 2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper ½ baguette, halved lengthwise and sliced ½ cup finely grated Gruyère cheese1. In a large high-sided skillet, heat oil over medium. Add onions and ginger; cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and transluscent, 45 minutes. Add shallots and sage. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally as onions reduce, until they are very soft and caramelized, about 1 hour. (Add a few tablespoons broth or water to skillet if onions start to stick.)2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Pour broth into skillet, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook 15 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.
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