2019-01-10 / From The Garden

Time is Right for Shallots, Onions and Leeks

By Cynthia Gibson

Shallots, onions and leeks are the backbone of many delicious dishes, and all three root vegetables can be found in the market at this time of year.

Currently, leek crops are bountiful. Leeks are usually large, but they are huge this year. Leeks are flavorful yet delicate, and the large size does not diminish that flavor. Although a relative of the onion, your eyes will not water when slicing them. You can slice all the leek except the roots and the green sword- like leaves, and use them in a tart, soup, stew or roast.

With tender white rings-and-a-tube-like stem, they are naturally creamy. Although leeks are easy to grow, they take time. Start seeds in late March, plant by the end of April, and wait until summer to harvest.

Ramps are wild leeks that literally grow in the backyard in wooded areas at the base of trees and in the vicinity. They are much smaller than cultivated leeks, and taste stronger. The first green spring vegetable, they are great chopped and tossed into a salad.

Shallots, like leeks, are native to Eurasia. The Persians considered them a sacred food. Unlike onions, shallots are sweeter. They are favored by chefs around the world because they have the flavor of onion and garlic.

Onions and shallots must rest in the sun for a few days after harvesting, and then spread out on newspaper in a shady, breezy area so their skins will dry and become tight around the bulb. The tight skin helps to prevent rot.

Shallots are also a lovely purple-red. Because of their sweetness, they are great when thinly sliced and marinated in a lemon vinaigrette.

What is better than French onion soup to dive into while it is chilly outside? This soup must have been an original comfort food. Melted Gruyere cheese and a crusty buttered slice of toasted baguette forms its crowning glory.

Authentic French Onion Soup

Courtesy of Julia Child

Serves 6 - 8

5-6 cups yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 to 2 lbs.)
1 tbsp. cooking oil
2 tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. flour
6 cups beef stock (preferably homemade)
1/2 cup wine (dry white wine or dry white vermouth)
salt and pepper
12 oz. swiss cheese, grated
4 oz. parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 raw yellow onion
2-3 tbsp. cognac
8 slices French bread (about 1 inch thick)
4 tbsp. olive oil, for drizzling

Place heavy bottom stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add 1 tbs. cooking oil, 2 tbsp. butter to pot. Add sliced onions and stir until they are evenly coated with the oil. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes until they are very tender and translucent.

Add 1/2 tsp. sugar and 1 tsp. salt and continue to cook uncovered, on medium or medium high heat stirring frequently until the onions have browned and reduced significantly. Once caramelized, reduce heat to medium low and add 3 tbsp. flour to the onions.

Brown the flour for about 2-3 minutes, be careful not to scorch it. If the flour does not form a thick paste, add a bit more butter. Stir in about 1 cup of warm stock, scraping the bottom of the pan to get up all the cooked-on bits. Add the rest of the stock and wine to the soup. Simmer for 30 minutes.

To make the "croutes" (toasted bread), heat oven to 325 degrees. Drizzle each side of the bread slices with a bit of olive oil and place on baking sheet. Cook for 15 minutes on each side.

Add salt and pepper if needed.

Transfer to a casserole dish. At this point add the 2-3 tbs. cognac and grate the 1/2 raw onion into the soup.


Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Add a few ounces of the Swiss cheese directly into the soup and stir. Place the toasted bread in a single layer on top of the soup. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese in a thick layer on top of the bread making sure to cover the edges of the toast to prevent burning. Drizzle with a little oil or melted butter.

Place in a 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes. Turn on broiler and brown cheese well.

Let cool for a few minutes.

Bon Appetit!

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