Sweet Spring Onions
by Christina Pirello
While many of us can’t imagine anything more alluring than the taste of sautéed onions, sometimes we want something less intense—but that still hints at onion flavor. In this case, scallions, green onions and spring onions are often our alliums of choice.
But what are spring onions—and are they the same thing as scallions? (Scallions and green onions are simply different names for the same veggie.)
Spring onions resemble scallions with long, graceful green stalks, but you’ll notice that they have small onion bulbs at the base. They’re like the mature versions of scallions. They are planted as seedlings in the late fall and then harvested the following spring, hence the name.
Spring onions are sweeter and more delicate than regular onions with purplish or snow-white bulbs, depending on the variety, and can be used in exactly the same way as onions or scallions, but they will yield a milder flavor in the resulting dish.
And while the flavors and textures of scallions and spring onions can be similar, the intensity in flavor of the glorious green stalks differs, especially when used raw. I wouldn’t use raw spring onions in place of raw scallions in a dish, as they can easily overwhelm the other flavors in an unpleasant way.
I love spring onions. They are a sure sign of the warm days to come. If you plan to cook with them (and I do hope you will!), their mellow flavor will add a depth to your spring cooking that makes the season even sweeter.
Polenta Tart with Spring Onions
Makes one 9-by-12-inch tart
- 5 to 6 large red and/or white spring onions
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for oiling the tart pan)
- 1/4 teaspoon local honey
- Sea salt
- 2 cloves finely minced fresh garlic
- 3 cups spring or filtered water
- 1 cup fine yellow cornmeal
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup unsweetened almond or soy milk
- Separate the dark green stalks from the bulbs and rinse well.
- Set the greens aside and slice the bulbs vertically in half and cut into half-moon pieces.
- In a medium-sized skillet, place the oil and spring onions over medium heat.
- When the onions begin to sizzle, stir until they turn translucent—about 2 minutes.
- Add honey, a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently until the onion pieces caramelize to a deep brown—about 15 to 17 minutes.
- Stir in garlic and season lightly with salt. Cook for 1 minute more. Set aside to cool.
- In a medium pot, bring water and cornmeal to a gentle boil, with a pinch of salt and black pepper, stirring constantly.
- Reduce heat to low and continue cooking, stirring frequently until polenta is thick and the center heaves—about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Take polenta off of heat and stir in “milk” and sautéed spring onion bulbs and garlic.
- Cool polenta for about 10 minutes and lightly oil your tart pan. Preheat oven to 450 F.
- Spread polenta evenly, (about 1/2 inch thick) over the bottom of the tart pan. Chill for 10 to 15 minutes before proceeding.
- Slice the reserved green stalks into long, thin, diagonal pieces and sprinkle over the top of the chilled polenta. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the polenta is firm and the edges are browned.
- Slice and serve hot.
Christina Pirello is a Philadelphia-based chef and educator.