One man’s onions are another man’s alliums
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.
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.