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Wednesday
Jun222011

« Spring Onion Au Gratin »

I picked up my first vegetable share at the Tribeca CSA this week. And among the bounty, there was a beautiful bunch of spring onions.  

Spring onions are typically harvested in the early summer, and should not be confused with their close relative, scallions (or green onions). Spring onions are essentially young onions, which are pulled before they reach full maturity.  On many farms, they are a by product of thinning; but due to their immense popularity, many farms grow them for the express purpose of an early harvest. 

I love spring onions because you can treat them like a vegetable, not just a seasoning. They are delicious grilled with a little olive oil, and downright decadent when cooked with a small amount of butter and cream.

This recipe is not a typical Au Gratin dish, as the onions are not smothered in a heavy cream sauce. Rather, they are cooked in a very small amount of butter and cream, and once tender, they are topped with a mixture of fresh bread crumbs and pecorino romano cheese. As you will see below, the onions are the real star of this show, and everything else just adds a hint of richness and texture.

The onions from the CSA were perfect: the bulbs were firm and the stalks were crisp and a vivid green. After washing the spring onions carefully, I removed the stems and the tops of the greens.  I then split the onions lengthwise with a sharp knife and placed them cut size down in an oblong baking dish -- alternating the bulbs with the stems.

The size of the dish and the number of the onions dictate the amount of butter and cream to use.  I had 4 onions, and used approximately 5-6 Tbsp of butter and 1/2 cup of cream.  As you can see from the picture above, the butter and cream barely covered the bottom.  If you want to use less butter, you can add 1/2 cup of dry white wine (or stock) to the bottom of the dish.

I baked the onions (covered) at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes.  Ideally, they should bake at 375 degrees for about 30 - 40 minutes. (At the higher temperature, the butter tends to darken around the edges; the taste is not altered, but the presentation is less esthetically pleasing.) In either case, the onions are ready when a sharp knife can be easily inserted into the thickest part of the bulb.

After the onions finished baking , I sprinkled a mixture of fresh bread crumbs and pecorino romano cheese on the top. I used 1 1/2 cups of fresh bread crumbs (3 slices of bread) and 1/2 cup grated cheese -- but you can use any ratio/amount that suits your taste. I then put the dish back in the oven for another 15 minutes to brown the topping. 

As you can see from the picture above, the butter and cream were completely absorbed by the spring onions and topping.  The onions had a sweet, buttery taste, but they were not greasy or heavy.  All in all, a perfect side dish.

The printable recipe is here.

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