Sweet onions

Of the many things I’m looking forward to this spring, ramps – also known as wild leeks – are top on my list. They are a sure sign that spring has sprung. They are a member of the Allium genus of the Alliaceae plant family that also includes onions, chives, leeks, garlic and more.

Last fall at Edge of The Woods Farm we planted a lot of garlic. We waited patiently through the winter for the first signs of their scapes to poke through the soil. I am anxiously looking forward to harvesting the burgeoning scapes and to foraging the forthcoming ramps this spring.

Onions with their sharp, pungent flavours when eaten raw can be a turn off for some people. When cooked they are typically used as a wonderful supporting flavour for a variety of preparations including soups, sauces or stews. But the onion doesn’t always get the attention or respect it deserves.

When you cook an onion you end up with a sweeter product than when you started. Onions contain different types of natural sugars that caramelize when cooked. Burnt onions are onions that have been caramelized too much. Charred sweet onion is delicious but not the best way to minimize that strong onion flavour.

The best way to maximize the sweetness in onions is to cook them low and slow for a long time, typically at least 45 minutes. The natural sweetness of preparing onions this way is a great accompaniment to meats, breads, dips, sauces, soups, just about anything. The natural sweetness will amaze you.

How to Caramelize Onions

I peel and cut my onions in half from top to bottom, and slice them from top to bottom. You can cut them however you choose.

Select the widest bottom pan or pot you have. You want as much surface area as possible to aid in the caramelizing process. Heat the pot to medium high heat, add enough vegetable oil or butter to cover the bottom of the pot, add onions and some salt, this will draw out moisture and give you an evenly seasoned final product.

Cook on medium high heat until the bottom of the pot starts to look dark golden brown. Turn the heat off, stir and let sit for five minutes, moisture will be released from the onions. Use this liquid to naturally deglaze the bottom of the pot by scraping it with a wooden spoon, stirring well. Turn heat back on to low stirring every so often paying close attention to not burn the onions. Repeat the deglazing process as often as you need to. If you choose you can also deglaze with water or a flavoured liquid of your choice. The lower and slower you cook the onions, the better tasting final product you will have.

I usually like to cook mine for several hours but never less than 45 minutes. When they’re done they should be a dark walnut colour. The longer you cook them the darker they will be. They will eventually turn into a puree or what can be called an onion jam.

They will keep for several days in the fridge. Enjoy!

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