Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Iron Chef Night -- VIDALIA ONIONS

If memory serves me right, I did a blog post just after the Christmas holiday in which I extolled the virtues of the Vidalia onion.  I gave due respect to the history of this vegetable, noting its humble beginnings on Georgia farms and its rise to become a protected treasure of a State known more for its peaches.  The Vidalia onion is by far the sweetest of the onions.  Its fresh and gratifying flavors are born out of soil that that lacks the influences of chemicals such as sulfur, whose noxious odor and corrupting tastes ruin vegetables. The relative purity of the soil produces a sweet onion that I believe is best for all forms of cooking, including my French Onion Soup.

Alas, in my post, I lamented that Vidalia onions are available only during the spring and summer months, and, that they were unavailable for me when I wanted to make my soup during the holidays.  I had to settle for sweet onions from other parts of the country, such as Texas and California.  

However, I now have organic Vidalia Onions from Antioch Farms, in Claxton, Georgia.  So, it is time for me to use my creativity to take recipes beyond where they have gone and to showcase the truly exceptional sweetness of this onion.

ALLEZ CUISINE ...

THE FIRST COURSE

For the first course, I served a Shrimp and Vidalia Onion in White Wine Marinade.  The Vidalia Onion is sliced thinly, and then marinated with other vegetables in white wine and lemon for a couple of hours.   The onion is served with freshly steamed shrimp on fresh spinach. 


SHRIMP AND VIDALIA ONION IN WHITE WINE MARINADE
Adapted from a recipe by the Vidalia Committee
Serves 2-4

Ingredients:
1 pound of shrimp
2 Vidalia onions, sliced thinly
4 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 carrot
1 tablespoon of sugar
2 celery stalks
1 teaspoon of basil
6 teaspoons of white wine, like Chablis or Sauvignon Blanc
Spinach leaves
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Ingredients:
1. Steam the shrimp.  Salt and pepper the shrimp to taste.  Slice all of the vegetables and separate the onion slices into rings.

2.  Whisk together the remaining ingredients and pour over the vegetables.  Marinate for 2-3 hours.  Add the steamed shrimp to the vegetables about five to ten minutes before serving and toss.

3.  Place the spinach leaves on a plate.  Top with with the vegetables and shrimp.

THE SECOND COURSE

For the second course, I served a Caramelized Vidalia Onion and Roasted Garlic Bisque.  I sauteed Vidalia onions with leeks for nearly an hour, while a whole head of garlic roasted in the oven.  The soup is created using vegetable stock, milk and white wine.  The onions and garlic are blended with the liquid, creating the bisque soup.  The sauteed onion and roasted garlic flavors complement each other.  These flavors create an earthy dish that still preserves some of the sweetness of the onion. A few pink peppercorns are sprinkled over the soup, providing a spicy contrast for some spoonfuls.



CARAMELIZED VIDALIA ONION AND ROASTED GARLIC BISQUE
Recipe adapted from Cooking Light, Jan. 1997
Serves 6

Ingredients:
1 whole garlic head
1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil
9 cups of thinly sliced Vidalia onions (about 4 large onions)
2 1/2 cups leek, thinly sliced (about 2 medium sized leeks)
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
2 tablespoons of all purpose flour
1/3 cup of dry white wine
4 cups of vegetable broth or vegetable stock
2 cups of 2% low-fat milk
6 tablespoons of fat-free sour cream
Toasted caraway seeds (optional)
Pink peppercorns (optional)

Directions:
1.  Remove the white papery skin from the garlic head but do not separate or peel the cloves.  Rub oil over the garlic head and wrap in foil.  Bake in an oven heated to 350 degrees for one hour.  Let cook for 10 minutes.  Separate cloves, squeeze out the garlic pulp and discard the skins.  the garlic aside. 

2.  Heat the 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of oil in a dutch oven or large pot.  Add the onion and leek.  Cook the vegetables for about thirty minutes, stirring often.  Add the thyme and 1/2 of salt.  Continue to cook for an additional thirty minutes or until the onions have become golden, stirring occasionally.  Once the onions have become golden, stir in the flour, add the wine and broth and bring the mixture to a boil. 

3. Reduce heat to a simmer and let it simmer for thirty minutes.  Add the garlic pulp, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and the milk.  Continue to simmer for about eight minutes or until the mixture is thoroughly heated.

4.  Pour half of the mixture into a blender and process until smooth.  Pour the pureed mixture into a bowl.  Repeat with the remaining mixture. 

5.  Garnish with sour cream, caraway seeds or pink peppercorns if you desire.

THIRD COURSE

For the third course, I prepared Soft Shell Crabs with a Tomato Onion Salsa. This dish presents raw Vidalia onions in a fresh salsa with tomatoes, parsley and pine nuts.  The freshness of the salsa and the raw onion is contrasted with the richness of the sauteed soft shell crab.


SOFT SHELL CRAB WITH TOMATO ONION SALSA
Adapted from Chef 2 Chef
Serves 2

Ingredients (for the soft shell crabs):
2 soft shell crabs, cleaned
1 cup of flour
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

Ingredients (for the salsa):
1/4 pound of cherry or grape tomatoes
1/4 cup of Vidalia onions, chopped
1/8 cup of flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil
Handful of toasted pine nuts
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper to taste

Directions:
1.  Prepare the salsa.  Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.

2. Heat the butter and olive oil in a saute pan.  Dredge the soft shell crabs in the flour . Shake off the loose flour.  When the butter is melted and the oil hot, add the soft shell crabs carefully to the pan.  Let the soft shell crabs cook four about four minutes and then flip them.  Cook for about another four minutes and the crabs should be finished.

3.  Plate the soft shells and spoon the salsa over the crabs.

THE FOURTH COURSE

Although served with the third course, this dish presents the Vidalia onion in a slightly different way.  Rather than contrasting the onion to the rich taste of the soft shell crab, the Vidalia onion is contrasted with the rich texture of the avocado.  The fresh Vidalia onions are sliced thinly and served over fresh avocado.  A drizzle of red wine vinegar and olive oil completes the dish.


AVOCADO ONION SALAD
Adapted from Delish.com
Serves 2

Ingredients:
1 Avocado, sliced
1/2 Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Directions:
1. Arrange the avocado slices and top them with the sliced onion.

2.  Drizzle olive oil and vinegar over the avocados and onions.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately.

ENJOY!

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