Enjoy the last fruits — or alliums — of summer

As our wonderful local farmsteads are thinking of shutting down for their winter break, I have been enjoying the very last fruits of summer. In particular, the members of the allium family.

Photos by Joan Weed/Sweet Roots Farmstead This is a great time of year to stock up on alliums like garlic, onions, leeks and shallots.
Photos by Joan Weed/Sweet Roots Farmstead
This is a great time of year to stock up on alliums like garlic, onions, leeks and shallots.

Red and white onions, plump garlic bulbs, shallots and leeks. In my kitchen, all are must-haves. There is always a supply of at least onions and garlic. This group of vegetables plays a vital role in my family recipes.

The beginnings of these necessities are months back in our memories. They do take a long period from seed to harvest. This is why quite often gardeners begin with sets or bundles of started plants. Alliums are perhaps the very earliest endeavors for us vegetable gardeners. If you start from seed, January-February is not too early. See why sets are so popular?

Years ago, I began leeks under grow lights and it’s a lot of tending keeping them alive for perhaps five months before they can be planted outdoors. Also, they need trimming at least once before transplanting. But … by choosing seeds you get a wider choice of variety.

I particularly love cippolini onions but they are not commonly found in produce aisles. There are many types of leeks and gardeners have their favorites. Garlic, of course, is planted in the fall when other bulbs go in the ground. They can be covered with mulch or straw to keep from heaving but I don’t always get to that and usually they survive. Harvest the following July when leaves yellow.

Recently, pickled red onions have become a “thing,” and I have to admit I’m fond of them. Add to sandwiches, tacos, quesadillas or simply as a comforting side to your meal. Using interesting vinegars for pickling adds to the allure. Slice thinly and place in container with tight cover. I usually add a bit of sugar but that’s up to you. Dilute your vinegar of choice to cover onions and add any other herbs or seasonings that seem right to you. I find I like them unfussy.

As our weather cools, our minds turn to warming soups and stews. Here are a couple of my favorite soup recipes, featuring the allium family.

Leek and potato soup
(6-8 servings)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 leeks, split and rinsed of sand, tough green tops removed
6 peeled potatoes such as Yukon gold
6 cups water or broth (chicken or vegetable)
Salt to taste
1/2 cup light cream
Optional herbs such as thyme, savory, sage chopped finely

Chop the leeks and potatoes to 1-inch pieces. In a large stock pot, melt butter with oil. When shimmering, add cut vegetables. Saute for 5 minutes or so. Add liquid to cover, seasonings and herbs if using. Simmer till all vegetables are soft. Let cool if using a blender or puree with immersible blender in pot. Add cream. Taste for seasoning. Garnish with chopped chives.
Note: Sometimes I add carrots and serve as a chunky soup. If the pureed soup is chilled, it becomes Vichysoisse.

French onion soup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
8-10 medium mixed onions peeled and sliced ¼ inch thick
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dry white wine such as pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc or unoaked Chardonnay
1 quart beef or chicken broth or stock
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons thyme if fresh, less if dried
Lightly toasted baguette slices
1 cup grated Gruyere or Emmental cheese

Melt butter in stock pot. When melted, add sliced onions, garlic. Cook low and slow for 30 minutes or so till caramelized and brown in color, stirring often. Don’t skimp on carmelizing time. This is where flavor develops.

When browned, add wine and cook off alcohol, or if preferred, use a tablespoon of wine vinegar in the broth. Add thyme and stock of choice. Simmer for 30 minutes more. Check for seasoning.

If using individual ramekins, ladle soup into each and top with one baguette slice. Pile grated cheese on top of each. With ramekins on a baking sheet, bake at 400 degrees till cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve immediately.

If ramekins aren’t available, place toasted bread with cheese under broiler until melted and bubbly and carefully set on each soup serving.