The Greens of Spring: Alliums

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Onions and garlic are among the most common and useful seasonings worldwide, as well as in my kitchen. In spring my garden is full of green fresh forms of these lovely vegetables, and this is the time to plan for the green onions you’ll want later in the year. Start now, because they won’t be ready for a while. I suggest starting some long red onions from seed. They are available under several names. At Gourmet Seeds International in Tatum, New Mexico, they’re sold as Rossa lunga de Firenze. Also get a packet of the lovely Japanese green onions. My favorite is Shimonata. Don’t worry about the late start; you’re planting for the future. Start them now, and plant them out in fertile soil when they’re big enough to take care of themselves. I plant mine in clusters of 3-5 plants, with at least 8″ between clusters. They will grow slowly through the summer, and some of the Shimonata will be big enough to eat in the fall. In early fall the red onions will seem to mature and die at a small size. Don’t panic. Leave them in place. Both types will sit motionless, sulking, through the winter and will burst into lively growth in early spring. Usually the red onions will divide, and you will get two or even three beautiful mother-of-pearl-colored spring onions like the ones below from each. The shafts of both types will be thick, sometimes an inch in diameter. Harvest them as soon as they’re big enough to be usable, and keep harvesting until the flowerscapes appear.
They are useful in all kinds of cooking, and I love the shafts trimmed, rubbed with olive oil, and grilled slowly until sweet and softened. Slice up with a good sharp knife (very messy eating if you skip this step) and serve with sea salt and a little of your best olive oil.
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To have green garlic next spring, stick cloves in the ground about 6″ apart in the fall. For this purpose, any good organic garlic from the store is fine. Harvest when they just begin to form a bulb swelling, trim the roots and peel, slice finely, saute in good butter, and season with sea salt. Good with pasta, on good toasted sourdough bread, or as a sauce for fish.
A few years ago I ordered some “French gray shallots,” which the catalog claimed were the only real shallot to use in French cooking. I was unimpressed: the shallots were strong-flavored, garlicky, small, and maddening to peel. I left a lot of them in place out of disinterest, and discovered that in late winter and spring their foliage makes great greens. Cut and use like chives, but they are significantly stronger in flavor. They add zip scattered in a salad, or add them to greens dishes for the last few minutes of cooking.
Sauteed green onions are a great addition to hortapita fillings and other greens dishes, so please check out my “greens” category on the sidebar for more recipes. Or, for a recipe in which green onions are the stars,

Green Onion Pie

This rich but simple recipe is adapted from Marian Cunningham’s recipe in Lost Recipes.

Your favorite crust recipe: enough for a one-crust pie
4 tablespoons good butter
3 cups chopped pale part of green onions
2 cups chopped green part of green onions, 1/4″ pieces.
2 cups cream, light or heavy, depending on how virtuous you’re feeling
4 real free-range eggs
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves.

Line a 9″ pie pan with your favorite pie crust and chill it until the filling is ready. Melt the butter in a skillet and saute the pale parts of the onions until cooked and sweet but not browned at all. Meanwhile, heat the cream in a saucepan just until a ring of small bubbles forms around the edge, and remove from the heat. Never take your eye off it, by the way; cream boils over faster than you can imagine.As soon as the cream is scalded, remove from the heat. When the onion “whites” are cooked, add the greens to the pan, along with the thyme if using. Cook a few more minutes, until the greens are well wilted. Whisk the eggs into the warm cream, season with salt and pepper, and add the basil if you’re using it. Salt a bit on the heavy side, since the cream mixture has to season the onions.Spread the onion mixture in the pie shell, pour the cream mixture over, and bake at 375 degrees until a sharp knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Serve immediately, or let cool a little and serve warm. This is rich and filling, and a good green salad is the only accompaniment that you really need. A generous handful of chopped chives or shallot greens in the salad is a nice connection to the flavor of the pie.
Ms. Cunningham discourages the addition of ham or bacon, but I say that a little very good applewood-smoked bacon or a handful of the delicious prosciutto crumble from La Quercia will only accentuate the fresh sweetness of the onions. Add the meat in small pieces at the saute stage.
La Quercia is a very good place to know about, by the way. The pigs (Berkshire and Berkshire crosses) are raised outdoors and humanely, and the cured meats are among the very finest made in America. Their Prosciutto Rosso is better than most that makes it here from Italy, and the prosciutto crumble is a high-quality time-saver.

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