Alliums — members of the onion and garlic family — form the base of savory dishes all year long, but in the spring, they really become the stars. Young alliums are more delicate and less pungent than more mature ones, and they turn tender and sweet when cooked. From scallions and leeks to green garlic, here’s how to choose, prep and use alliums in your kitchen this season, along with recipes from the Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen.
Varieties: Look for these alliums at your farmers’ market, all with different flavors, characteristics, textures and uses.
- Globe Onions: These are the all-purpose onions, including the familiar yellow globe, mild red onions, strong white onions, small, flat cipolline onions, and tiny pearl onions.
- Green Onions: Also known as scallions or spring onions, green onions are the immature shoots of the bulb onion, with a narrow white base that has not yet begun to swell and long, flat green leaves.
- Shallots: This small member of the onion family looks like a large clove of garlic covered with papery bronze or reddish skin. Shallots have white flesh lightly streaked with purple, a crisp texture and a flavor that is subtler than that of an onion.
- Garlic: These pungent bulbs consist of 12-16 cloves tightly clustered and wrapped with papery white skin.
- Green Garlic: Harvested just before the garlic begins to form cloves, green garlic is available only in the spring. It looks like a large green onion with a tinge of pink at the bulb and is milder than regular garlic.
- Leeks: Resembling giant green onions, leeks have bright white cylindrical stalks and long, overlapping green leaves.
- Ramps: These prized relatives of the leek are gathered only in the spring; they are also known as wild leeks and have a strong, oniony flavor.
Globe onions should have tight, smooth peels that are dry and papery. Avoid any with soft spots, mold, or green shoots. Garlic heads should be plump with smooth, firm cloves and creamy white to purple-tinged skin. Choose the smallest leeks available with dark green tops that are crisp, firm and free of blemishes. The tops of green onions should be vibrant green and look fresh and feel firm.
Store globe onions, shallots and whole garlic heads in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place. Store leeks and green onions in plastic bags in the refrigerator; the leeks will last up to 5 days and the green onions up to 2 weeks. Green garlic can also be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Peel onions downward with the stem end and chop them with a sharp knife. (Some say that refrigerating them for about 30 minutes before cutting will help you avoid tears.) Cut all onions as close to cooking or serving time as possible; their flavor deteriorates with time, while their aroma intensifies.
Garlic added to long cooking braises and roasts should be left in large pieces. Minced garlic has a hot, more volatile flavor that will disperse quickly. Crushing garlic will release much more of its aromatic oils. Cooking oil will bring out its flavor, but avoid scorching (the garlic will become bitter).
Grit often lodges between the layers of leek leaves, so rinse them well before cooking. Trim off the roots and the dark green tops, then halve the leeks lengthwise, leaving the root ends intact for cooking whole. Rinse thoroughly under cold running water while separating the layers to remove all grit.
Rinse green onions thoroughly, then trim off the root ends and green tops from the onions. Using your fingers, peel off the outer layer of the bulb. Use them as soon as they are cut. Here’s your allium toolkit:
- Rosle Garlic Press, for mincing garlic
- Nonstick Fry Pan, to saute onions and garlic in oil
- Wusthof Chef’s Knife, for chopping and slicing
- de Buyer Adjustable Slicer, to slice onions and shallots into thin rings or strips
- Stoneware Onion Pot, to store onions
- Garlic Peeler, for peeling garlic cloves
Sauteed in oil until soft, onions, shallots and garlic are the foundation of countless dishes around the world. They can also be cooked slowly until caramelized or highlighted in soups, flatbreads and savory sauces. Onions are delicious breaded and fried, grilled, and braised. Milder green garlic is wonderful in soups, sauces and with roasted vegetables.
Gentle cooking preserves the delicate texture and flavor of leeks, which work well in quiches, soups, salads and side dishes with potatoes or rice. Young leeks can also be harvested as shoots and used raw, like chives. The milder bite of green onions blends well in dishes where raw onion would be too strong, such as scrambled eggs or omelets, sandwich fillings, or savory salads. In Asia, the bright green leaves garnish soups and dipping sauces. Whole green onions can also be grilled or braised like leeks, and the white base may be substituted for shallots. Shallots, too, are often used for flavoring sauces and salad dressings that would be overpowered by the stronger taste of onion.
Ramp Butter: Blanch ramps; squeeze dry. Chop finely. In stand mixer, beat softened butter, ramps, salt, pepper and lemon zest. Shape into a log; wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm. Cut butter into rounds. Spread on crostini; top with thin radish slices.
Braised Leek Gratin: In covered fry pan, simmer trimmed halved leeks with chicken stock until just tender. Transfer to a buttered baking dish. Combine bread crumbs, olive oil, chopped thyme and shredded Gruyere. Sprinkle over leeks. Bake at 400°F until bubbly and golden.
Grilled Ramps & Spring Onions with Romesco: In food processor, process peeled roasted red peppers, roasted tomatoes, slivered almonds, garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, smoked paprika, salt and pepper until smooth. Toss trimmed ramps and spring onions with olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill until tender. Serve with romesco.
Spring Onion Tarte Tatin: In cast-iron skillet, melt 3 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon sugar. Add thick slices of spring onions, salt and pepper. Cover and cook, turning onions occasionally, until caramelized. Add balsamic vinegar; cook until syrupy. Place puff pastry round over onions. Bake at 375°F until golden. Invert onto platter.
Melted Leeks with Seared Salmon: Season salmon with salt and pepper. Warm a large pan until very hot and sear salmon on both sides until salmon is just opaque in the center. In fry pan, melt butter. Add thinly sliced leeks, chicken stock, salt and pepper. Cover and cook slowly until leeks are very tender. Stir in chopped chives. Transfer to plate; top with seared salmon.
Spring Allium Pizza: In food processor, puree roasted garlic cloves, olive oil, salt and pepper. Brush on pizza dough round. Top with caramelized red onions, sauteed shallots and leeks and grated pecorino romano. Bake at 500°F on preheated baking stone until crust is crisp. Sprinkle with chopped green onions and minced chives.