How to Use up Sprouting Storage Onions: Caramelized Onions

Onions are biennials, that is, they form a bulb the first year of growth (this is what we eat) then send up a flower and form seeds the second year of growth. One way an onion bulb gets a jump on reproduction is to be light sensitive. As the days grow longer after the Winter Solstice on December 21, the onions in our larders sense spring is on the way and begin getting ready to send up a flower stalk. The best storage onions delay this process, caramelized onion soupbut as soon as we begin getting over ten hours of light a day (where I live, that’s in February) even the best keepers are usually turning green in the middle and getting soft. So right about the time I start planting next year’s onions (around twelve weeks before the last frost) it’s also time to do something with last year’s onions before they go bad.

My favorite way to use up onions is to make a big batch of caramelized onions. Sweet, melting, golden caramelized onions are used in regional cuisines all over the world. In Greece, they are mixed with sheep milk yogurt and tossed with pasta and grated cheese, or served atop a dish of lentils and parsley. In France, where they are called “confit d’oignon” they turn up beside grilled meat or mingled with bacon and cheese in quiche. Tuscans strew them over their regional flatbread, schiacciata, along with a little cheese and a few olives to make a light lunch. Continue reading

Potatoes are Comfort Food for the Hunger Moon Month

February’s full moon is known as the “Hunger Moon.” It wasn’t so long ago that people Coconut Apricot Monkey Breadwould face empty larders at the end of winter (in undeveloped countries people are still at risk for seasonal starvation). And even though these days relatively few Americans are at risk of dying for want of food, by the end of winter our bodies are longing for the spring tonics of early bitter greens, sunshine and best of all, the warm brown scent of thawing earth.

Which may be why potatoes are such a comfort to us during these dreggy days. They smell of the earth, don’t they? And they even taste of it in a good way – elemental and solid. Too, potatoes are one of the few vegetables (they’re actually a tuber) whose flavor improves with storage. According to Harold McGee, author of my favorite book of kitchen science, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, during proper storage (in the dark at temperatures between 45 and 50 degrees) the enzyme activity in potatoes “generates fatty, fruity, and flowery notes.” Continue reading