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Home-grown harvest: Spring onions

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Written by:
Home-grown harvest: Spring onions

Spring onions are most definitely not just for salads, says Russell Brown – their versatility lends itself to a huge variety of dishes

The main point to note about spring onions is that they’re not just for salads. Talk to a group of chefs or do a quick online search and the versatility of this diminutive allium will quickly become apparent.

They are known by various  names including green onions, salad onions and  scallions, but they are, in truth, just an immature onion.

In the Catalonia region of Spain, a type of spring onion called calçot – which has  PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status – is venerated in winter festivals  called calçotadas.

The onions are grilled over fires of vines to bring out their sweetness, stripped of  their charred skin and dipped in Romesco sauce.

Spring onions are also revered in oriental cooking and, along with garlic, ginger  and chilli, are key ingredients in many dishes.

The season for outdoor-grown spring onions in the UK runs from March to October, with the early crops having been grown over winter. This is a method used by specialist grower Hallwood Fresh Veg in Okehampton, Devon, to provide an early crop.

There are various seed varieties available, which account for the different shapes
and colours, with White Lisbon and Guardsman being two of the most common.

Red spring onions and bulbous or straight varieties are often seen. The flavour,  however, varies little between the types. The red or purple onions bought from wholesalers are generally imported from France or Italy.

Spring onions can be used raw, but cooking them will enhance their sweetness  and give them a more delicate flavour. Chargrilling, steaming and braising all have their merits and, once cooked, the onions can be folded through risottos, used in sauces or warm salads or processed to make a vibrant green purée.

Thinly sliced and simmered in milk for a few minutes, they are used in the classic Irish potato dish, champ. A personal favourite of mine is to add peeled, cooked prawns to the mash as an accompaniment for fried fillets of plaice or brill.

The more straggly green tops can be used finely sliced in much the same way as chives. Chef Nick Galer uses them thinly sliced in a cockle ragoût at the Miller of  Mansfield in Goring, Berkshire; and Ben Prior, chef-proprietor at Ben’s Cornish Kitchen in Marazion, Cornwall, is serving chargrilled spring onions with a wild garlic risotto and a slow-cooked blade of beef.

Roast breast of pigeon with rösti potato and charred spring onion

Roast breast of pigeon with rösti potato and charred spring onion
Roast breast of pigeon with rösti potato and charred spring onion

For the rösti
2 medium Maris Piper potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
20g clarified butter
Olive oil for frying

Squeeze as much excess moisture from the  potato as possible, then season and mix in the clarified butter. Heat some olive oil in two blini pans and divide the potato between them.

Press down lightly and cook until golden brown and crispy on the underside  before turning over. Add a little more oil if necessary and cook on the second side until golden and crispy. Remove to a wire rack and keep warm.

For the pigeon
2 pigeon crowns
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
25ml olive oil
1 clove of garlic, smashed
4 sprigs of thyme
25g unsalted butter

Remove the pigeon crowns from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking. Season  them well and heat half the oil in a heavy-based frying pan. Place the pigeons in, laying them breast-side down. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the skin is golden, then turn onto the other breast  and repeat.

Add the remaining oil, then the garlic, thyme and butter. Baste the pigeon crowns and turn them to sit breast-side up. Add 50ml water to the pan and transfer to a hot oven, 180°C, for 2-3 minutes. Press the pigeon at the fattest part of the breast to check if it’s done – the meat should feel firm, not flabby, but with lots of give.

Remove to rest on a wire rack, breast-side down. Tip the butter and herbs over  the top.

For the spring onions
1 bunch of spring onions, trimmed and outer leaves removed if necessary
Olive oil
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toss the onions with the oil and seasoning and char on a hot griddle pan or  chargrill, turning occasionally. Cook until just tender and nicely charred. If the onions are thick, cover with a metal lid or tin to allow them to steam a little and cook through.

To serve
80ml thyme jus

Carve the breasts from the pigeon and trim.

Place a rösti in the centre of the plate and top with a tangle of spring onions. Lay  the pigeon breasts on top and pour the sauce around.

Spring onion, pancetta and goats’ cheese pizza

Spring onion, pancestta and goats' cheese pizza
Spring onion, pancestta and goats’ cheese pizza

Makes two 25cm pizzas

For the dough (start 24 hours ahead)

Sponge
3g fresh yeast
75ml water
15ml olive oil
100g bread flour

Dough
3g fresh yeast
100ml water
200g bread flour
5g finely ground Maldon sea salt

For the sponge, mix the yeast with the water and olive oil then blend in the flour.  Cover the bowl and prove overnight in the fridge.

For the dough, mix the yeast and water in the bowl of a stand mixer, sprinkle  over the flour and salt, then add the sponge. Mix with a dough hook for 10  minutes, scraping down occasionally.

Cover the bowl and prove until doubled in size. Divide the dough in two and  shape into balls. Allow to prove for 20 minutes before use.

For the sauce
80g passata
15ml olive oil
1tsp dried oregano
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix the passata with the oil and oregano and then season to taste.

For the topping
12 spring onions
10g mascarpone
6 thin slices of pancetta
40g grated Parmesan
80g soft goats’ cheese
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Good quality olive oil
Cut the roots from the spring onions and discard. Trim the tops of the onions to make them around 10cm long. Remove the outside leaves if necessary. Roughly chop all the onion trim and sweat down in a little olive oil until tender. Blitz the onion to a purée with the mascarpone and season to taste. Cut the pancetta slices  in half and wrap around the spring onions in a spiral.

To assemble, roll or stretch the dough into 25cm discs, then spread with a thin  layer of the sauce, leaving a 2cm border. Sprinkle over the Parmesan. Lay on the six pancetta-wrapped onions and then dot on the onion purée. Crumble over the goats’ cheese, drizzle with a little olive oil and grind over some black pepper.

Bake in a pizza oven or on a preheated pizza stone with the oven set to full. The pizzas will cook in 3 to 8 minutes depending on the oven.

Serve with a salad of rocket, orange segments, chilli and thinly sliced spring onion.

Buying and storage tips
• The tops should be bright green and rigid
•  The bulb end should be very white and glossy without a papery skin
• If the roots are intact they should be stiff, not limp
• To store, wrap the root end in slightly damp paper and keep in a sealed plastic bag or container in the fridge

Coming up…
Over the next few months I will be featuring white asparagus and peas. Do let me know how you use these products on your menus and what your seasonal  favourites are. Email recipes, dish suggestions and photographs to russell@creativeaboutcuisine.com

Spring onions supplied by
www.hallwoodfreshveg.co.uk

Market report
Charlie Hicks
totalproducelocal.co.uk

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