Know your onions?

Submitted by Judy on Fri, 03/21/2008 - 10:48pm.

Happy Easter to our Christian friends!

What is your most indispensable ingredient, whether you’re preparing an elegant company repast or a humble weekday family dinner? The onion, of course!

“A good onion is always worth the tears,” said Linda Griffith, who with husband Fred wrote “Onions, Onions, Onions: Delicious Recipes for the World’s Favorite Secret Ingredient” (Chapters Publishing, $14.95).

This James Beard award-winning cookbook tells you everything you ever wanted to know and then some about onions in all its colors and forms – from Spanish to Pearl to Walla Walla – and its cousins in the allium family: leeks, ramps, scallions, chives, shallots and garlic. Try cooking without them – I dare you!

As much fun to read as to cook from, this passionate book is filled with onion lore from the tombs of Egyptian mummies – “[Onions] were placed in the thorax or pelvis, or in the ear or near the eyes, perhaps because they were believed to improve breathing” – to the use of onions in language – Yiddish curse: “ You should grow like an onion with your head in the dirt and your feet in the air!”

Mouth-watering recipes ensure that this cookbook will soon become splatter stained: Chive Crêpes with Smoked Salmon; Alsatian Onion Quiche; Chicken Liver Pâté with Applejack, Scallions and Chives; Crisp-Roasted Duck with Leek and Orange Stuffing.

For your Easter feast, try Potatoes and Onions, Alsatian-Style, a rich and creamy casserole that the Griffiths claim is “not for the faint of heart”!

“It gets its inspiration from a traditional potato and Muenster cheese combination that we first encountered in the dining room of a tiny inn high in the Vosges Mountains in Alsace,” they write. You can substitute Pont l’Évêque or Port Salut for the Alsatian Muenster or even Monterey Jack.

Speaking of Easter, “Celebrate!” by Sheila Lukins (Workman Publishing, $19.95) invites you to celebrate not just Easter, but a housewarming, bridal shower, a new job, glorious summer… 43 holidays and celebrations in all.

You’ll find both Easter Sunday Dinner and Greek Easter chapters with the tempting recipes we’ve come to expect from the coauthor of the “Silver Palate” cookbooks: Heavenly Deviled Eggs, Glorious Mushroom Soup and Coconut Cream Pie in the former and Roasted Red Pepper Soup, Sage-Roasted Leg of Lamb and Lavender-Honey Ice Cream in the latter.

“I believe the most memorable celebrations take place at home,” Lukins writes. “In mine, all celebrations begin in the kitchen, and part of the fun is deciding what to prepare, creating a menu with appeal, start to finish.”

Traditional Waldorf salad benefits from the addition of fennel and yogurt, adding bite and tang to the classic.

From “Onions, Onions, Onions” by Linda and Fred Griffith

2 1/2 to 3 pounds Yukon Gold or medium-sized white or red-skinned potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
1/2 pound Alsatian Muenster cheese, shredded (2 cups)
1 garlic clove, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces

Preheat oven to 425° F. Thoroughly butter a shallow 8-x-10-inch baking dish. Divide potatoes, onion, cheese and garlic into thirds. Layer 1/3 of potatoes in the dish and sprinkle with 1/3 of garlic, onion and cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Repeat layering 2 more times, ending with cheese. Pour half-and-half and cream over top. Scatter butter on top. Bake 30 minutes; Reduce temperature to 375°. Bake until potatoes are golden and tender, about 1 hour.

From “Celebrate!” by Sheila Lukins

1 1/2 cups diced celery
1 1/2 cups diced Granny Smith Apple
1/2 cup diced unpeeled McIntosh apple
1 cup diced fennel
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup prepared mayonnaise, such as Best Foods
1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Combine celery, apples and fennel. Toss with lemon zest and juice. Combine mayonnaise and yogurt; fold into fruit. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in walnuts and parsley. Chill up to 4 hours. Serve at room temperature. Serves 8.

Fullerton News Tribune/Orange County Register, March 20, 2008