21/07/2012 10:01

Onions are native to Asia and the Middle East and have been cultivated for over five thousand years. Onions were highly regarded by the Egyptians, who believed that its spherical shape and concentric rings symbolized eternal life.

In the Middle Ages onions were such an important food to the Europeans that they were used as currency to pay for essentials such as rent and were even given as gifts. In Siberia onions were still used as a form of currency up to the mid-18th Century.

The onion has a reputation as a potent aphrodisiac. In ancient Greece onions were commonly used as an aphrodisiac remedy, while in the days of the Egyptians Pharaohs celibate priests were forbidden to eat onions because of the potential effects on their libido.

Onions are the essential kitchen vegetable. They vary in shape and colour, but they all share a common structure, with a papery outer skin and inner layers of pale, crisp flesh. Onions, like garlic, are members of the Allium family. Onions are available year-round, with sweet varieties available at certain times of the year.

WHITE ONIONS ~ traditional onion, With a strong, pungent flavour and distinctive white skin and flesh. White onions are very popular, and very versatile. They have a golden colour and sweet flavoUr when sautéed.

YELLOW / BROWN ONIONS ~ full-flavoured and a reliable standby for cooking almost anything!
They are the most commonly used onions and they have a golden brown skin. They have a pungent aroma, a strong flavour and are a good all-round onion. You can use them in a wide variety of dishes from casseroles, pies and quiches to stir-fries, sauces and pizzas.

RED ONIONS ~ Have a mild sweet flavour and an attractive colour. They make a good choice for fresh uses or grilling. Use them as a garnish, or include in homemade chutneys to serve with cheese and cold meats. Try them quartered and roasted in olive oil.

SPANISH ONIONS ~ Have a mild, sweet flavour. Their skins are a rich golden colour and they are one of the largest varieties available. Serve raw in salads, stuff and bake them or add to any savoury dish where a subtle onion flavour is required.

SHALLOTS ~ These are not baby onions, but a close relation of the onion. They have a mild, delicate flavour which is less overpowering than most onions. Shallots grow in a similar way to garlic - when you peel one there may be two or three held together at the root. Use in recipes where a small amount of onion is used or where a subtle onion flavour is needed. They are often included in rich, creamy sauces where just a hint of onion flavour is needed.

PEARL ONIONS ~ Also known as button or baby onions, these are larger than pickling onions and have a sweet, delicate flavour. Add them whole to stews and casseroles or cook them very gently in a little butter and a splash of balsamic vinegar for 20-30 minutes until tender, and serve with roasted meat.

PICKLING ONIONS ~These are maincrop onions, picked when they are still small. Available in the autumn, they have a strong, pungent flavour.  Preserve them in vinegar, and leave to mature and enjoy them with cheese and cold meats. They can also be added whole to casseroles in place of shallots or standard onions. How do you like your pickles?..Crisp or soft, sweet or sour, mildly spiced or chilli hot?

SPRING ONIONS ~ Also known as salad onions green onions or Scallions,
 these are onions that have been harvested at a very young age. They have green shoots and a creamy white bulb, both of which can be eaten. They have a mild flavour and are often eaten raw. Great used in salads, stir-fries, omelettes or in sandwich fillings.

* In recipes where onions and garlic are called for, (which they usually are as they are the base to most recipes) you need to cook them a little to get rid of their rawness before adding to a recipe. Onions benefit from being cooked longer whilst garlic will quickly burn and have a nasty bitter taste.

 Peeling small onions is fiddly work, try blanching them for a few seconds in boiling water before draining and running through with cold water- This loosens the skins and makes peeling much easier.

To help prevent tears in the kitchen

* Place the onions in the fridge or freezer for 30 minutes before chopping
* Peel the onions under running water
* Use a wet chopping board and a sharp knife.
* Chopped Onion can be frozen for up to three months. Once defrosted they can be used as normal in sauces, stews and casseroles.

 If you have grown lots of onions, then why not use some of them in these delicious recipes.


Goes well with any roast meats. I love to serve this with my roast chicken dinner.
Preheat the oven 180C. Heat 50g butter & 1 tbsp oil in a pan. Add 1 large chopped onion and cook until softened. Stir in 100g fresh white breadcrumbs and 1 tbsp fresh sage- finely chopped. Season well. Put into a baking dish and cook for about 40 minutes.


Makes a wonderful side dish to roast meats.

8 Red onion, peeled and bottoms sliced flat
2 tbsp olive oil
bunch fresh thyme

Preheat the oven 200C/Gas 6
In a pan of salted water, add the onions and bring to the boil, simmer for 10 mins, just until they soften slightly. Remove with a slotted spoon and place them into a roasting tin, cut-side down. Drizzle over the olive oil and sprinkle over the thyme leaves, add a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Pop into the oven and cook until beginning to turn golden- about 30mins.


Now this is really simple to make, and can be eaten hot or cold and it has a nice sweet taste. This relish would be great served on a succulent burger.

4 large onions, thinly sliced
1/2 teasp salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tblsp Balsamic vinegar

Heat the oil in a large pan, stir in the onions and the salt, cover. Cook for around 5 mins until the onions have softened.

Uncover and saute the onions, stirring frequently until tender and very well browned, this will take around about 20 - 25 mins. Remove from heat and stir in the balsamic vinegar.


Great served with a roast beef dinner or as a side dish to any other meal.

6 medium- sized onions, peel & trim the roots of the onions, but leave them whole.
100ml double cream
3 bay leaves
25g parmesan cheese.
Salt & Black pepper

Cook the onions in a large pan of boiling water for about 25-mins or until tender. Drain, (saving a little of the onion cooking water) Season the cream and mix in the onion water (saved from earlier). When the onions have cooled, slice each one in half through the root, then lay the onions halves cut side down in a baking dish. add the bay leaves then pour over the cream. Sprinkle on the parmesan, and bake in oven for about 25 mins until cream is bubbling and the onions are beginning to brown.

TIP~ try adding some herbs like sage to give it a nice flavour, and use chedder cheese instead of parmesan. Also you can make this dish up the day before, chill in fridge then when ready, just sprinkle on cheese and bake.


Serve this dish on it's own with loads of crusty bread, or as a side dish to a main meal, goes very well with pork / beef.

8 small onions, Red or white
2 tbsp Olive oil
25g Butter
100ml Dry Cider
150g Cheese,- chedder, camembert, or brie.

preheat the oven to 190C gas 5

Peel the onions and cut off the roots, leaving the base of the onion intact, so that they will not fall apart during cooking. Cut a cross in the top of each onion about three quarters of the way down. Put into a roasting tin and brush the onions with oil. Put a small piece of butter on the top of each onion, pressing it into the cross.

Pour over the cider, and cover loosely with foil, cook in oven for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and baste the onions with the cider, return to the oven uncovered for a further 25 minutes, basting every so often. Cut the cheese into pieces and press into the top of the onions. Cook until cheese has melted.

~ Serves 4

8 large Red onions, peeled
500g /1lb Ricotta
75g /3oz Pinenuts, toasted
1 tsp Chilli flakes
250g /9oz Spinach or can use Chard leaves, wilted
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/ 190C.
Add the onions to a large saucepan of boiling, salted water and cook for about 25 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the onions and leave to cool before slicing the tops off and scooping out the middles.

In a bowl, mix together ricotta, pinenuts, chilli flakes and spinach, season with sea salt & plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Stuff the mixture into the middle of each onion. Then place the onions into a roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil and pop into the oven to cook for about 40 minutes. The onions should be meltingly soft and the mixture beginning to turn golden brown.


4 medium sized, onions
50g/2oz Butter
1 tbsp fresh chopped Parsley
1 tbsp fresh chopped Chives
1 tbsp fresh chooped Tarragon
salt & pepper

Peel the onions and cut into quarters, but not all the way through, make sure the bases are in tact. In a bowl mix together the butter and herbs, salt & pepper. Put the mixture inside the onions, then wrap each onion in aluminum foil, sealing well. Place amongst the BBQ coals for about 20-25 minutes, until tender. ~These are great served with a nice juicy steak, sausages or burgers.


This makes a great side dish to roast chicken/turkey dishes.
~ serves 4

200g Chestnuts, shells pierced
12 shallots
75g chestnut mushrooms, finely chop
75g button mushrooms, finely chop
12 garlic cloves, peeled
few sprigs thyme
50g butter
4 tbsp olive oil

Plunge the chestnuts into boiling water for 4 mins, remove and peel them while warm. Repeat with the shallots, for 10 mins, then peel and halve. Place the chestnuts, shallots, mushrooms, whole garlic cloves and the thyme into a oven dish. Melt the butter and olive oil in a saucepan, then, pour over the vegetables, season well. Pop into the oven and cook for 25-30 mins.


A quick and easy comforting supper dish.

 Serves 2

4 onions, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
4 eggs
300ml double cream
125g parmesan, grated
40g butter
2 tsp caraway seeds
100g cherry tomatoes, halved
small baguette loaf, sliced
grating of nutmeg,
salt & black pepper
Preheat the oven 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5.

Heat the olive oil in a a frying pan and cook the onions for 8-10 minutes, until soft and golden. Stir in the caraway seeds and the tomatoes, cook for a further minute. Whisk the eggs, cream, nutmeg and half the parmesan together, season well with salt & freshly ground black pepper. Butter the bread and arrange it in the base of a gratin dish, then spoon over the onion mixture. Pour the egg mixture over the top and scatter over the remaining parmesan cheese. Pop into the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until lovely and golden. Quite nice served with a green salad.

CARAWAY ~ one of the worlds oldest culinary spices. It can be used in sweet or savoury dishes, including, cabbage soups, coleslaw, goulash and potato and cheese-based dishes. Caraway has long been used to flavour cheeses, also breads and cakes like the old-fashioned British seed cake. Caraway seeds have a warm, sweet and slightly peppery aroma, and their flavour has a hint of fennel or aniseed.

Heirloom suggestion:

Walla Walla(105 days)

The story of the Walla Walla Sweet Onions is said to have begun over a century ago on the Island of Corsica, off the west coast of Italy. It was on this island that a French soldier, Peter Pieri, found a sweet onion seed and brought it to the Walla Walla Valley. After many years of selecting only the sweetest and largest onions, The Walla Walla onion was born. 

Walla Walla produces a extra large white onions with light brown skin. These onions are famous for their sweet and very mild flavor. Walla Walla is very cold hardy, but does not store well. A Long day variety suitable for Northern regions, and especially the Pacific Northwest.

Source:Sustainable Seeds

Growing onions