It's Allium cepa season!
by Robert Booz
Onion grass or wild garlic, call it what you want. The dark, verdant, chive-like, bunches of oniony smelling grass are some of the first to poke out of the muddy earth towards the timid spring sun. The dense clumps of wild onion are easy to find in many backyards (it’s an invasive species) but easier still, at your local farm stand or market, are their cultivated cousins.
Spring brings in baby leeks, scallions, and immature onions; their bulbs still small and green tops still tender. These domestic cultivars are sweeter and milder than their wild kin, helping to expand their utility.
Whether wild or farm-grown, spring onions make an invaluable addition to any kitchen larder.
Euell Gibbons points out in Stalking the Wild Asparagus that Native Americans prized the Allium family, the genus responsible for a whole host of garlics, onions, chives, and shallots (among others), for its flavor and versatility. What’s more, Allium, whether cultivated or wild, are good for us. The antioxidant and nutritional properties of garlic have long been espoused, but all members of the Allium family possess beneficial nutrients. Count on spring onions as a source of Thiamin, Riboflavin, Magnesium, Phosphorus Copper, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Potassium and Manganese. Not to mention, they are high in dietary fiber.
Despite all these qualities, too often Allium finds itself featured as a mere supporting ingredient or condiment. While you should feel encouraged to toss thinly sliced green onions, chives, or wild garlic onto everything from salads to roast chicken, this versatile vegetable deserves its own spot on the main stage. A handful of wild garlic, a potato, and a bit of cream make for a delicious lunch or light dinner for cooler spring days. Try baby onions or leeks grilled. They make a wonderful meal with a soft-boiled egg and some crusty bread. Scallions can create the cornerstone of delicious pasta. And all can be spun into compound butters to freeze for use throughout the year. In a pinch, there’s nothing to tie together simple stirfries and sautées like spring onions. They stand on their own, left whole and simmered lightly in some seawater (or just salty water) then finished with butter and a bit of black pepper. A quick rinse and peel after trimming away the less tender tops and root end make spring onions ready for the pan.
Recognize the versatility of this family of ingredients. Whether served as a side dish or a main course, Allium rarely disappoints. Also, they are easily foraged or grown in a small dooryard garden or even in a container garden. But with as much open space and farms as there are on the Island, there’s no doubt that spring onions will be easy to find and well worth the score.