Green Onions, Butter—Oh, And A Little Madeira—and Happiness
Long ago and far away, it seemed that green onions—scallions to many of us—belonged to spring's ephemera. Wilted salad, in particular, lifted these sturdy, reliable spring garden spears to green glory.
Nowadays, The Gardener at our house keeps green onion tops growing nearly year-round. He cultivates fall-planted potato (multiplying) onions and Winter Onions, also known as Egyptian (walking) onions, in addition to the usual tender spring green onion array. Last year we discovered the delicate delights of shallots' green stems. Chives, long a favorite, cheer up salads and freshen cooked dishes most of the year. Garlic in all its many forms graces his gardens each year. We harvest few onion bulbs, but enjoy the tasty fresh greens all year round.
We had so many green onion options across the 2014 growing season that we cleaned, chopped and froze a couple of gallons of allium greens, with some of the more tender white bulbs included. These bags of ready-to-cook green onions amount to instant flavor boosts for winter dishes.
Outdoors, quite a few onion plants stayed in the ground. They must have heroic constitutions—they survived the wild swings from temperate to Arctic of this past memorable winter, without growing, to be sure, but without showing much evidence of hardship, either.
Then the inevitable miracle happened: spring! Both our somewhat stunned garden beds and our freezer still held green onions. So when Food52's Kenzi Wilbur posted a redo of a James Beard Braised Onion Sauce for pasta, I fearlessly redid it a bit more so I could use what we had, clearing space for newly grown foods in 2015.
What we had: green onions instead of bulbous ones, a tablespoon of sorghum instead of a tablespoon of sugar. Butter? Plenty. Madeira? Yes. Plus bags of hearty supermarket pastas we had received as gifts.
The onions of all types that came in from the garden in March and April looked remarkably good after cleaning.
The first time I made the sauce, I used the last of those over-wintered onions from the 2014 garden beds. The second time I built the sauce from the bounty of frozen green onions. Both times I used the gift pastas and shared with the hungry people of Cornbread Supper: a couple of pounds of corn noodles at first, and then even more whole wheat rotini.
Both iterations were good. Very, very good. Lexington Pasta's wondrous products would make the dish even better.
While the green onions, whether frozen or fresh, never reached a color the recipe called dark, some delicious browning does happen. The caramelized onion flavors infuse the butter; the Madeira and sorghum underline the onions' natural sweetness, the whole slippery goodness coats an enormous number of noodles lightly (stir, stir, stir, keep stirring)—and the resulting food tastes mysteriously complex and wonderful. Like you worked harder than you did.
Time, actually, works for you both in the garden, with the forgiving onions, and in the kitchen, where slow heat and an hour or more of bubbling in butter produce a dish that seems bigger than itself. Cooks have known this since the dawn of fire and pot: onions relax their sharp ways and find their true, sweet nature in gently simmering fat. And there goes your meal, right up to sublime.