Readers Recipe Contest: Alliums, the Onion Family


Photo by Michael Piazza / Styled by Catrine Kelty

Spring is a tough season for locally-grown produce here in the Northeast. Trees blossom and leaves unfurl by late April; the grass begins to get green again and crocuses pop up even earlier than that. But we wait until at least June for anything really edible to be ready to harvest from our farms and gardens. Some farmers have grown all winter long, using hoop houses and cold frames to extend their season and continue harvesting from their fields. Most have started greenhouse seedlings by early February, giving a boost to longer-growing crops. For the average home gardener, though, planting in the spring won’t produce much to eat until the earth warms up and the summer begins in earnest, which around here can be as late as the Fourth of July.

Alliums, however, sprout pretty early. My own well-established chive plants are one of the first signals of spring in my garden; tender green shoots popping up through the brown thatch of last year’s fallen blades. When planted in late fall, garlic and onions will produce early spring greens, sometimes even pushing up through snowy March soil to reach the sun. They are a promise of warm weather to come, a sure sign the winter has gone and longer days are upon us.

With this in mind I chose the early-growing, sturdy Allium family as the Readers’ Recipe Contest theme back in January. By March, I thought, we’ll all be ready to see some green in the garden after a long winter, and who doesn’t love onions, their sharp raw bite giving way to sugary sweetness when cooked?

But then it began to snow. And snow. And snow some more. As I write, on a sunny 10° morning, a solid 6 feet of snow covering my chive plants, spring seems impossible, a world away. What Mother Nature brought us this winter is unprecedented, and the green grasses, apple blossoms and onion shoots we long for aren’t right around the corner, no matter what the calendar says. Not this year. Especially if we get any more snow.

Luckily, our readers came through with wonderfully versatile Allium recipes, just as well-suited to this interminable winter as they are to spring. The last remaining winter farmers markets are a good place to find locally-grown storage onions, kept cool and dry since last autumn’s harvest. Stock up now. It’ll be a while before we see bunches of green garlic and fresh, sweet slicing onions in their place!

This story appeared in the Spring 2015 issue.