Another sign of the coming season is the appearance of fresh spring onions at Harvest Market, our local natural foods and specialty grocery store. I spotted them a week or two ago, hiding behind the beets on the top shelf of the large produce cooler, their crisp green tops still attached. Choosing the golden-hued Walla Walla types, I was able to capture four bunches and add them to the menu for the Memorial Day family gathering. These delightful onions are grown by Comanche Creek Farms in the Chico/Durham area by Jim Miller, an organic grower who brings his warm weather produce across the state two time a week and services the many stores and restaurants of the Mendocino coast. Originally drawn here by his love of salmon fishing, he has developed a captive market for the very items that cannot be successfully grown in our cooler climate on the coast. The onions are the over-wintered remnants of his summer onion beds, and are picked just before they send up a flower spike and go to seed. There are three varieties in all, the Walla Walla’s, a red torpedo, and a white; but the Walla Walla’s seem to be the sweetest, and perfectly suited to roasting.
After removing and chopping the green tops for salads or stir fry, I cut a cross about an inch deep in the top of each onion. Carefully trimming the root end flat, I stand the onion on top of a square of aluminum foil and douse the cut surface with bright green new olive oil. After sprinkling with kosher salt, the onions are tightly sealed in their foil pouches and buried in the coals of the BBQ to roast.
When the packets are opened at the table, the aroma is enticing. The outside layers are lightly caramelized and you can cut the entire onion with a fork. It is said that the onion contains more natural sugars than any other vegetable, and when you take a bite of these, you know it must be true. Simple yet robust, the flavor is a perfect foil to the pork ribs grilled with a crisp coating of hoisin sauce and a dusting of Chinese five-spice powder.
Leftovers, if any, are saved and sliced thin to toss with a midweek pasta dinner. Their slightly smoky sweetness adds a depth of flavor that makes even this quick and easy supper a special spring treat.