Onions and More Onions

 Turns out 50 pounds of onions will probably only last through January

I bought 50 pounds of unsorted onions from Elmer Farm, my CSA farmers this fall.  I figured unsorted meant that the onions varied in size, but I didn’t know that they would also vary in likelihood of storing well.

Some of the onions didn't cure properly. 

Some of the onions had soft necks where the leaves had not fully dried.  Each layer of an onion is actually a leaf, and some leaves dry better than others—no matter how well they are handled post harvest.  So before storing, I had to sort the onions, setting aside those with thick and/or soft necks for using immediately. Turns out, about 15 pounds were destined to be used quickly.  Any by using quickly, I mean, discarding any slimy brown layers, but utilizing the rest of the onion.

 I could feel the onions with soft necks, alerting me to the fact they wouldn't store well.

You’d think that would be a daunting situation, but it wasn’t.  First, 6 pounds or so went into making Rosemary Onion Confit (see March Madness 2012).  Some went into the dehydrator, some went into a beef and onion stir-fry with black bean sauce, some went into onion soup.  And the rest were fried—not something I recommend doing but often, what a wonderful once-a-year treat!


About the stir-fry, I followed my basic recipe for a stir-fry (see Serving Up the Harvest, pages 35-35), using beef and 8 cups of slivered onions, substituting black bean sauce and 1 tablespoon chopped fermented black beans for the oyster sauce, and omitting the broth and cornstarch.  When I returned the stir-fried beef to the wok with the seared onions, I added 6 sliced scallions.  The only trick with an onion-based stir-fry is to use a really, really hot wok and get a good sear on the onions.

 Beef and Onion Stir-Fry with Black Bean Sauce

For the onion soup, trust me, you don’t need a recipe.  Also, you don’t need to serve it with a cheese layer on top—you can melt cheese on toast under the broiler and then ladle the soup on top.  It is much easier to eat that way.  To make onion soup, just slice several pounds of onions; you’ll want 8 to 12 cups of sliced onions.  Then pour beef broth on top—could be homemade from roasted soup bones, could be from bouillon, or canned—using enough to cover the onions, 8 to 12 cups, and simmer for about 30 minutes.  Season with soy sauce, which has that umami quality and darkens the color of the broth nicely, and pepper.

 Ladling onion soup onto cheese toasts.

And finally, the fried onion rings.  I went for a simple seasoned flour for a coating, dipping the onions first in buttermilk, then in flour, then into the hot onion in batches until browned.  They turned out great—crunchy, sweet, salty—and maybe just a little too good.  So as with all good seasonal foods, enjoy fried onions as a celebration of the harvest, and don’t worry if your onions haven’t cured as well as you would have liked.

 Deep frying onions.

Oh, and where are all those onions stored?  In an unheated upstairs closet.  I don’t know what people do who have heat in the upstairs bedrooms. An unheated closet is the perfect place to store onions. How do they store their onions?  How do they sleep?

March Market Madness

The email arrived in my mailbox with the title “March Market Madness.”  My friend Lauren Slayton had a problem.  She is a market gardener, brilliant baker, and superb cook who sells baked goods, soups, and other prepared foods at the Middlebury Farmers’ Market.  Like many growers trying to earn a living off the land, she finds it necessary to market “value-added” products.  Carrots may be a dime a dozen in the growers’ bins, but Lauren’s creamy Carrot-Ginger Soup is a whole other story.  It flies out of the market.  Likewise her potpies and rustic tarts, not to mention her breads, brownies, and cookies.


Now that it is March, Lauren’s supply of the vegetables she grew herself has dwindled. So she proposed a contest to help her come up with a localvore-inspired recipe for the next market, with extra brownie points (literally, meaning she would include brownies with the prize), if the recipe included onions or garlic, her last remaining vegetables.


 Red onions. Photo by Lauren Slayton

Onions don’t get enough love.  They are a workhorse in the kitchen, the backbone flavor note in many, many soups and sauces.  I don’t think my mother ever cooked a single dinner than didn’t start with “first you sauté an onion.”  But beyond French onion soup and batter-coated onion rings, there aren’t a lot of classic onion dishes.  So Lauren’s market regulars might have been stumped by the challenge.  But I wasn’t.


Just that week, I watched as my last pint jar of Rosemary Onion Confit was opened and consumed on biscuits with some nicely aged goat cheese from Twig Farm in Cornwall, Vermont.  I knew that onions can be the star of the show, so I sent her a recipe that will appear in The Pickled Pantry, which will be out in June.  The recipe makes a delectable, savory-sweet jam or rosemary-scented caramelized onions.  I’ve enjoyed it on turkey sandwiches and used it to as a filling for a pork tenderloin.

 Rosemary Onion Confit on a biscuit

Lauren used the confit as a filling for a rustic tart.  What will this relish inspire you to make?


Photo by Lauren Slayton

Rosemary Onion Confit

Makes 3 pints


¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

3 pounds onions, chopped

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup cider vinegar

1 tablespoon rosemary

1 tablespoon soy sauce, or to taste

Freshly ground black pepper


1.  Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the onions, reduce the heat to low, and stir to coat the onions with the oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are brown and meltingly tender, about 30 minutes.


2.  Stir in the sugar, cider vinegar, rosemary, and soy sauce and simmer for 5 minutes.


3.  Pack the onion mixture into clean hot pint jars, leaving ½ inch headspace.  Remove any air bubbles and seal.


4. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.  Let cool undisturbed for 12 hours.  Store in a cool dry place.  


Recipe from The Pickled Pantry by Andrea Chesman.  ©2012.  All rights reserved.