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One man’s onions are another man’s alliums

March 17, 2010
tags: ,

Ashley had me all excited about this month’s Can Jam — Alliums!  A few years ago I wouldn’t have had a clue what the word even meant, but when I started gardening I fell in love with the big purple orbs and soon I knew what the flowers were and what family they belonged to.  (I have several alliums in my front yard garden and I’ll definitely be photographing them as soon as they bloom).   In addition to the decorative cousins, this family includes onions, garlics, leeks, shallots and my personal favorite ramps.  I was having a hard time deciding what to make (ramps aren’t in season yet, or they would have been the winner for sure).  In the end, I went with these two recipes: whole picked shallots and caramelized red onion chutney.   In both cases I selected them based on my vision of how they would be eaten.

In the headnote to Mary Anne Dragan’s recipe for picked onions she mentions that they “are the traditional, pungent picked onions served in English pubs as part of a ploughman’s lunch.”  Maybe its my desire to be swept up in the back to the land movement, but I liked the sound of playing ploughman – at least if that meant tangy crisp onions with a hunk of bread and a chunk of cheese.   The zing of the onions giving you the perfect excuse to eat more cheddar.

On the other hand, my farming experience is pretty much limited to planting aforementioned alliums and other pretty flowers so perhaps my onions would be better suited to my life if they dressed up and participated in a sophisticated (but oh, so easy) hors d’oeuvre.  I made the caramelised onions with the express intention of using them in a baked brie in puff pastry.  I usually make these with apricot jam but it seemed like sweet onions would be the perfect compliment to the brie.  And they turned out delicious (if not so photogenic)!

I didn’t realize until I was writing this exactly how similar the two dishes are: onions, cheese and a baked good: I guess some combinations are just fated.  (Are there any Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fans who will understand a reference to jynnan tonnyx?)  Anyway, dress ’em up or dress ’em down:  tt makes me happy that I can enjoy canned onions lots of ways.

Caramelized Red Onion Relish

From The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard

  • 2 large red onions, peeled
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/8 tsp each salt and freshly ground pepper

Slice onions into very thin slices. Combine onions and sugar in a heavy non-stick skillet. Cook, uncovered, over medium-high heat for about 25 minutes or until onions turn golden and start to caramelize, stirring frequently.

Stir in wine and vinegar. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low and cook for about 15 minutes or until most of the liquid
has evaporated, stirring frequently. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Remove jars from canner and ladle relish into jars to within 1/2 inch of the rim. Process for 10 minutes for half-pint jars.

Pickled Shallots

yield: 4 -5 pint jars

adapted from Michael’s Pickled Onions from Well Preserved by Mary Anne Dragan

  • 4 c. water
  • 1/2 c salt
  • 3 lb shallots, approx 2 – 2 1/2″ diameter, peeled
  • 2 tsp peppercorns
  • 2tsp mustard seed
  • 2 tsp cloves
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 1/2 c white vinegar
  • 2 c apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 c brown sugar

Dissolve the salt in the water in a large bowl and soak the shallots in this brine, covered, in the refridgerator, overnight, stirring occassionally.

Pour the vinegars into a large pot, add the sugar.  Place all the spices in a spice bag or ball and add to the pot.  Bring to boil over medium heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

In the meantime, drain the onions.  Then cover with cold water to rinse and drain again, repeating this step three times to remove excess salt from the onions.  Dry them with a dish towel.    Add the onions to the pickling liquid.

As soon as the liquid starts to boil again remove from heat, spoon the onions into the PREPARED canning jars to 1″ below the rim, pour in the vinegar liquid leaving 1/2″ headroom.  Seal and process for 10minutes in a boiling water bath.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. March 18, 2010 12:40 am

    These really look great, and only in part due to the great photography! That puff pastry looks especially good, and that is said on a full belly, so you know I mean it! I may have to plant some alliums this year…

    • March 18, 2010 7:17 am

      Its daring baker puff pastry… so I have you to thank for that! Maybe I should have done a seperate post on the baked brie so I could talk about the pastry, the mere mention of which got me started on daring bakers, and the extreme ease of making baked brie (once the pastry is ready)… but its like when I have new clothes, I couldn’t resist putting it all on at once!

  2. March 18, 2010 3:49 am

    That looks really delicious. I am planting onions on my allotment and if things go to plan, will end up with a pantry full of luscious onion relish.

    • March 18, 2010 7:14 am

      I’m very jealous that you are planting onions: will look forward to reading about them when they come up!

  3. Sarah permalink
    March 18, 2010 6:43 am

    oh my that looks incredible! I didn’t know that about alliums…very interesting. i used up the last of my preserved lemons and made the chicken recipe again last night. looks like now i’m going to have to, gulp, make my own preserved lemons!

    • March 18, 2010 7:14 am

      The lemons, like pickles, are the easiest possible way to ease into canning: you’ll be glad you did I promise! And I’m here if you have any questions at all!

  4. March 18, 2010 7:27 am

    I like the combination of the chutney and the puff pastry. I bet, my red onion marmalade would go well with it, too. I’m still looking for things to use it up with ;-). So, I’d appreciate a post on the baked brie! 😉

    • March 18, 2010 7:34 am

      The baked brie is SO easy I can tell it to you right here. Take a sheet of puff pastry (or make your own if you are a little crazy!). Spread your confection of choice on it (leaving the edges clean for the next step). Then put a round of brie on top and wrap the pastry around it, pinching to close it into a nice package. I can never get mine to be a very nice shape. You can brush w/ egg wash, but its not really necessary, and then bake at 350 for about 30minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. The cheese will start to seep out. Eat when warm (but not too hot: have some patience!). If you don’t have a round brie you can use a wedge and make a weird shaped baked package, or cube the brie and put the pieces in. I sometimes use the cubes and make individual pastries using a muffin tin and pieces of pastry about 2.5″ square.

      • March 18, 2010 7:46 am

        Thanks for the detailed explanation. I’m going to try it this weekend. My kids LOVE puff pastry!

      • March 18, 2010 10:55 am

        lucky kids!

  5. March 18, 2010 7:36 am

    I am the only one who actually tasted it after photographing it and I have to say it was absolutely absolutely delicious (even on a full stomach; Rebecca.. you were right). This is the best thing about food photography for me. Talia can you please make this again (maybe a dozen or so this time)? I would like to reshoot them 😉

  6. March 18, 2010 12:29 pm

    Oh, lord. You *made* that puff pastry??? That is worship-worthy. I love baked brie. It’s heaven. And yes, Ploughman’s lunch. Basically, as you said, bread, cheese and onions are the bomb. Did you post the shallot pickle recipe already? Will you?

    • March 18, 2010 12:33 pm

      Thanks Julia!
      The puff pastry wasn’t bad actually: its like making regular pastry and then doing a few sessions of rolling and folding and fridging — once i decided i’d leave the kitchen covered in flour for a while the rest was easy!
      That said: part of the joy of baked brie is how easy it is, so maybe not worth the extra steps!
      I didn’t post the shallot recipe: I can add it tonight — I was so tired last night by the time I got the post up I just got lazy!!

      • March 18, 2010 12:36 pm

        One day I’ll make the puff, but until then I’ll worship you. By the by, I totally understand on the recipe. Sometimes, I’m like: ugh, now I’ve got to write all this down??

      • March 18, 2010 1:29 pm

        Julia: I’m glad I’m not the only one… I even had a vision of writing down the recipe and getting some critical measurement wrong and sending a wave of botulism through the country: as if millions are waiting to use my recipe, ha!

  7. local kitchen permalink
    March 18, 2010 1:05 pm

    I am also in awe of making your own puff pastry – so impressed! And the caramelized onion sounds like a perfect match for baked brie.

    • March 18, 2010 1:28 pm

      I don’t feel I deserve the awe, but thank you! Maybe I’ll make them again and we can do a video because I swear it really is easy. I just have to figure out a way to make them so they don’t burst apart quite so messily when baking!


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