Alliums? Allium is the onion genus, with about 1250 species, making it one of the largest plant genera in the world. They are perennial bulbous plants that produce chemical compounds (mostly cystein sulfoxide) that give them a characteristic onion or garlic taste and odor.
Many of this large family of plants are not edible – but, oh, what would we do without these flavorful bulbs in or favorites recipes, even if they bring tears to our eyes?
Why do onions make us cry? When you slice an onion, enzymes that were separate become mixed producing a volatile sulfur compound that wafts upward toward your eyes. This gas reacts with the water in your tears to form sulfuric acid. It is the sulfuric acid that burns, thus stimulating your eyes to release more tears to wash the irritant away.
The allium family includes such culinary delights as,
Scallions: also known as green onions.
Chives: wispy, flavorful greens that are used more like an herb and do not produce the characteristic bulb associated with this genus.
Leeks: look like a large green onion but are quite different in flavor which is somewhere between a mild onion and a sweet lettuce.
Onions: red and yellow, they store well and are very versatile being eaten raw, caramelized, in soups and so on.
Garlic: known for its characteristic pungent, spicy flavor that mellows and sweetens considerably with cooking, garlic is also revered for its health benefits.
Elephant Garlic: resembles a very large garlic, but is closer related to a leek. Its mild flavor is wonderful when roasted and spread on a cracker or some French bread!
For southern Arizona, June is garlic and onion season. Local farmers began tending this crop last fall and have patiently weeded and watered the plants through the winter and spring. Then, in the early summer, the bulbs signal harvest time when their green tops, once reaching for the sky, give up and flop over in the heat. “Don’t be afraid to stock up.” Stewart Loew of Agua Linda Farm says, “These crops are freshly harvested and last a long time, unlike store bought garlic that is often last year’s crop and has been shipped from China. Grocery store garlic is also stored with other vegetables in cold conditions that promote sprouting. By buying fresh, you can be in control of how it is stored.” Loew recommends that you store fresh garlic in a cool, not cold, dark place, like a kitchen cabinet. Onions, purchased fresh, can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six months. For shorter term storage, keep onions in a well ventelated area.
Look for locally grown, fresh garlic and onions at farmers markets this summer and be sure to go to the 2nd Annual Garlic and Onion Festival at Agua Linda Farm in Amado from 5PM to 9PM June 19 and 20th. Farmer, Stewart Loew has been growing alliums for years and last fall he increased his crop to about 3 acres. In celebration of this savory harvest, the farm will have live music and scenic hayrides – free of charge! There will also be food venders offering up some tasty treats and the farm store will be well stocked with tear jerking-onions and pungent garlic!
The following recipe is for caramelizing onions. Try them on top of a grilled steak or burger, on a grilled cheese sandwich, tossed with your favorite pasta dish, with brie on a toasted baguette or on top of a pizza.
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 pounds onions, sliced thin
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons sugar
In a large skillet, melt the butter in the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and cook, stirring constantly, until the onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the sugar and cook, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan frequently, until the onions are golden brown, about 20 minutes.
The following recipe is for roasted elephant garlic. Try it on French bread, or mashed in with potatoes or as a spread in a sandwich!
Roasted Elephant Garlic
1 Elephant Garlic
1 t Olive Oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove the outer layers of papery skin of elephant garlic, leaving a small amount of skin behind. Cut the very tops off the cloves with a sharp knife – only about 1/4 of an inch, just enough to expose the individual cloves. Wrap in aluminum foil, and drizzle some olive oil in with the garlic before closing the foil completely. Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until garlic feels soft when pressed. Allow to cool slightly, and carefully squeeze garlic out of the skins, or gently slice open the sides and remove with a fork.
Basil, another summer favorite, pairs with fresh garlic in pesto. Have it tossed with pasta, spread on pizza or toasted baguette slices or as a spread in a sandwich or burger. (If you LOVE pesto, buy all the basil and the freshest garlic you can find at the farmers market and freeze batches of pesto, omitting the cheese until you later thaw it).
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil 1/3 cup pine nuts
3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
Puree all ingredients in a food processor.