By Emily Wilder
Visit her Blog at FarmCarolina.com - Emily's Green Kitchen
Two weeks ago, we packed up the car and headed Down East, something I’ve done nearly every summer for as long as I can remember. When I was young, our family drove in a caravan of cars connected by a citizens band radio, stopping in small eastern North Carolina towns like Kinston, La Grange, and Maysville on our way to Emerald Isle, an unassuming little beach on the Crystal Coast.
The hallmark of those rural, Southern, stiflingly hot towns, and a favorite item on my grandmother’s travel bingo card as we made the trip, was “The Pig.” I’m referring, of course, to the Piggly Wiggly grocery store chain that, for me, is synonymous with summer in the South.
Not to be slower than molasses in getting to the point of this food article, but I recently learned that symbol of summer shares a common history with another quintessential Southern icon: Vidalia onions. Both boast headquarters in “The Sweet Onion City” of the same name, located in Toombs County, Ga.
Vidalia onions aren’t just any old sweet onions. Thanks to the Vidalia Onion Act of 1986, the onion was given legal recognition establishing a 20-county area of production, and in 1989, a Federal Marketing Order, to regulate research and promotion through the Vidalia Onion Committee. The mellow flavor, not unlike that found when biting into a tart, juicy apple, comes from a mix of mild winters, regular rain, and low-sulfur soil — a combination unique to South Georgia. Vidalias are seasonal onions, typically grown as a winter crop, because they bulb best during the short days of Spring and early Summer. Once harvested, store them in a cool, dry location to maintain the characteristic sweetness.
Note: While these recipes endorse the official vegetable of Georgia, I won’t broadcast it over the CB if you pick up a similar sweet onion variety from our farmers right here in Rowan County.
Vidalia Onion Muffins
— adapted from Diana Rattray, About.com
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1/3 C. vegetable oil
3/4 C. milk
1 C. self-rising flour
1 C. old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 C. sugar
1/2 C. chopped Vidalia onion
1/2 tsp. chili powder
3/4 C. shredded extra sharp Cheddar cheese
In a large mixing bowl whisk together the egg, oil and milk; add self-rising flour, rolled oats, and the chili powder and sugar. Stir batter just until mixture is blended. Gently fold in the onion, shredded cheese; spoon the mixture into 36 small buttered and floured 1/8-cup muffin cups. Bake the muffins in the middle of a preheated 400-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Turn the muffins out onto racks and serve them warm or at room temperature. Makes 36 miniature muffins.
Watermelon and Vidalia Salad
3 C. seedless watermelon, balled or cubed
1/2 C. Vidalia onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp. fresh basil chiffonade
2 Tbs. high quality balsamic vinegar
Fresh cracked pepper to taste
In a bowl, gently combine the watermelon, onions and basil. Drizzle balsamic over mix. Season with pepper. Serve chilled or room temperature. (Note: If you make just one of these recipes this summer, this is the one!)
Roasted Vidalia Onions with Herbed Bread Crumbs
— Saveur, Issue #142
2 large Vidalia onions, cut
crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices
4 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 Tbs. bread crumbs
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1 Tbs. finely chopped parsley
1 tsp. finely chopped oregano
1 tsp. finely chopped thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced
Heat oven to 450 degrees. On a foil-lined baking sheet, coat onion slices in oil, keeping them as intact as possible; season with salt and pepper. Bake, turning once, until soft and lightly caramelized, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, stir together bread crumbs, butter, parsley, oregano, thyme, garlic, and salt and pepper in a small bowl; sprinkle evenly over onion slices. Continue baking until topping is golden brown, about 15 minutes more.
Vidalia Sweet Onion and Pear Salsa
— adapted from Morris Farms (sweetonion.com)
2 C. chopped Vidalia onions
1 C. diced unpeeled pear
1/2 C. chopped roasted pepper
2 Tbs. chopped fresh jalapeno pepper
2 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbs. lime juice
3/4 tsp. salt
In a medium bowl combine Vidalia onions, pear, red pepper, jalapeno pepper, cilantro, lime juice and salt. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate up to 2 days. Serve grilled with seafood, chicken or pita chips.
Stuffed Vidalia Onions
4 Vidalia or sweet onions
1/2 tsp. olive oil
2 medium zucchini, shredded
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried thyme, crushed
1 tsp. dried basil, crushed
3 Tbs. Progresso[0xae] plain dry bread crumbs
11/2 Tbs. chopped toasted pine nuts
3 Tbs. freshly grated
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a small baking pan with foil. Cut 1/2-inch off the top of each onion; slightly trim the bottoms so that the onions stand upright. Place the onions, cut side up, in the prepared baking pan and coat with cooking spray. Bake for 1 hour, or until soft. Set aside for 15 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Remove and discard the onion peels. Using a spoon, scoop out the onion centers, leaving a 1/2-inch shell. Chop the centers and reserve 1 cup for the stuffing; save the remainder for another use. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the zucchini, garlic, thyme, basil, and the 1 cup chopped onions. Cook for 6 minutes, or until the zucchini is softened and most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and stir in the bread crumbs, pine nuts, 2 1/2 tablespoons of the cheese, salt, and pepper. Divide the filling among the onion shells. Place the onion shells in the same baking pan and top with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon cheese. Bake for 20 minute, or until golden.
Savory Tomato & Vidalia Onion Soup
— Vidalia Onion Committee
11/2 pounds roma tomatoes cut in half, length-wise
4 Tbs. olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper
2 medium Vidalia onions, chopped
3 C. chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place tomatoes, cut side up, on sheet pan and drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper then roast until tender and beginning to brown, about 45 minutes. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in 6-quart stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions, cook until they begin to soften, about 6-8 minutes. Add roasted tomatoes and any juice from the pan to the pot along with broth and herbs. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. If smoother soup is wanted, puree to desired consistency using immersion blender.
Herbed Vidalia Onion Tea Sandwiches
— adapted from epicurious.com
1/3 C. mayonnaise
1/2 C. minced fresh parsley leaves
2 Tbs. minced fresh tarragon leaves
fresh lemon juice to taste
Tabasco to taste
12 very thin slices of homemade-type bread
1 Vidalia onion sliced very thin
In a small bowl stir together the mayonnaise, 1/4 cup of the parsley, the tarragon, the lemon juice, the Tabasco, and salt and pepper to taste. Spread one side of the bread slices with the mayonnaise, arrange the onion slices evenly on half the bread slices, and top them with the remaining bread slices. Press the sandwiches together gently, trim the crusts, and cut the sandwiches into quarters. Put the remaining 1/4 cup parsley in a shallow bowl and dip the edges of the sandwich quarters in the parsley.