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3 onion recipes worth crying over

Six onion braised chicken with chives. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)
Six onion braised chicken with chives. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

The onion family forms the base of almost all my cooking. Think onions, garlic, shallots, leeks, and scallions: The onion family is vast and offers an enormous flavor range, from strong and assertive to mild and spring-like. These recipes show off onion flavors in unexpected ways.

Sauteed red onions, rosemary, Parmesan cheese and crunchy salty pistachios are a fabulous combination to top a pizza. The sauteed onions take on an almost creamy texture and mild flavor, an excellent contrast to the woodsy flavor of fresh rosemary, the salt and crunch of the pistachio nuts, and creamy cheese.

Leeks vinaigrette is a classic French dish. Here, I steam fresh leeks and top the buttery tender leeks with a parsley-chive-caper vinaigrette.

Finally, a heartier spring dish of braised chicken with six types of onions, topped with pickled red onions. It’s an ideal spring dinner and can be made a day ahead.

12 types of onions worth knowing

Various types of onions. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

Chives are members of the allium family but are considered an herb, not a vegetable. They have a light, fresh oniony flavor and are good to use in cooking or minced and raw, sprinkled over finished food as a garnish.

  • Cipollini (or cipolline) onions are a small, flat Italian variety with a buttery texture. Their name literally means “little onion” in Italian. They have thin skin and have more sugar than most onions. They’re also great for roasting and caramelizing, and have a delicious flavor — but can be tricky to peel.
  • Leeks look like large scallions. They have a sweet, tender flavor. I love them in sauces, stews, braises and almost anything.
  • Pearl onions and boiling onions are great to use whole in pot pies and stews. Pearl onions are generally smaller than boiling onions and are quite sweet. They come in red, yellow and white varieties.
  • Red onions have a gorgeous red-purple color and a spicy flavor ideal for roasting, grilling and pickling. They are sweet, sharp and assertive. They are also delicious when very thinly sliced and pickled (see recipe below), and can be used in salads or to top tacos, burritos, enchiladas, etc.
  • Scallions are long, light and dark green-colored onions and are totally edible. They are great in stir-fries, salads and stews. Look for thin ones that have a delicate onion flavor. They can also be used for pickling. Scallions work equally well cooked or sprinkled raw over salads, cooked foods, soups and stews.
  • Shallots have a mild onion flavor. They are bulb-shaped alliums often used in French vinaigrettes and sauces.
  • Walla Walla sweet onions, Vidalias and Mauis have pale yellow skin, a mild flavor and are so sweet that some people like to eat them raw! They are a great garnish for tacos due to their high sugar content.
  • White onions are strong, sharp, and tender but more strongly flavored than yellow onions. They don’t store as well as yellow onions.
  • Yellow onions are the most common type of onion and hold up well to heat. The longer you cook yellow onions, the sweeter they become. They are ideal for long, slow cooking for recipes that call for caramelized onions. They are also called Spanish onions.
  • Shopping for onions

    • Always look for onions that have a heavy feel, free of bruises and blemishes, without a smelly, old-onion scent. When you gently squeeze the onions, they should be firm and tight, not soft or mushy.
    • Store onions in a cool, dark spot like a cellar or cool pantry. Once cut, you can cover the remaining onion and refrigerate. Unlike onions, scallions and chives are best kept in the refrigerator.

    Red onion, rosemary, parmesan and pistachio pizza

    This unusual combination was inspired by Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco in Los Angeles. The red onions here become almost creamy and the crunchy, salty pistachios on top are a stroke of unexpected genius. I sprinkle the cheese on and then add a touch of cold water, which gives the pizza a wonderful creamy base. You can easily double or triple this recipe if serving a crowd.

    Serves 2

    Red onion, rosemary, parmesan and pistachio pizza. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)


    • 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil, plus about 1 tablespoon to be drizzled on once the pizza is baked
    • 1 medium red onion, very thinly sliced
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped or 2 teaspoons, dried and crumbled
    • Flour for dusting
    • ½ pound pizza dough, store-bought or homemade
    • 1 ½ tablespoons cold water
    • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
    • ¾ cup salted pistachios, chopped


    1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
    2. Place a pizza stone (if you have one) on the middle shelf to heat up.
    3. In a medium skillet, heat the 1 ½ tablespoons of olive oil over low heat. Add the onions, salt, pepper and ½ tablespoon (or one teaspoon if using dried) of the rosemary. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until softened.
    4. Meanwhile, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a circle roughly 10 inches in diameter. Place on a lightly floured baking or cookie sheet if you don’t have a pizza stone. Sprinkle ½ cup of the Parmesan over the surface. Spoon the water evenly over the cheese. Sprinkle it with the remaining rosemary. Add the sauteed onions (and any oil from the skillet) evenly over the surface and then sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Transfer the pizza to the pizza stone or the middle shelf of the preheated oven and bake for 8 minutes. Carefully remove and scatter the pistachios over the surface. Bake another 2 to 5 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown (with no undercooked or raw-looking patches) and the cheese is bubbling and melted. Remove from the oven and drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Serve hot.

    Leeks vinaigrette

    This classic French dish is elegant, but also quite simple. It’s a perfect way to welcome spring, with its bright green flavor and fresh textures. Leeks are steamed in salted water and then “marinated” in a parsley, chive, and caper vinaigrette. You can make the dish hours ahead of time and serve it as a first course, side dish or light spring lunch with warm crusty bread.

    Serves 2 (as main course) or 4 as a first course or side dish.

    Leeks vinaigrette. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)


    The leeks:

    • 4 medium to large leeks, about 1 ½ pounds
    • Salt

    The green vinaigrette

    • 1 ½ teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
    • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
    • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
    • ¼ cup lemon juice, or white wine vinegar
    • ½ cup olive oil
    • Edible flowers to garnish, optional


    1. Prepare the leeks: Cut off the dark green section of the leeks on top; you can save these to make a great vegetable stock. Remove the stringy root end, but don’t cut off the entire root end, keeping the leeks intact. Cut the remaining pale green and white section in half lengthwise and wash well under cold running water to remove any dirt or mud.
    2. Bring a large skillet of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the leeks, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the leeks. They should feel quite soft and tender when tested with a small sharp knife. Remove from the skillet and dry the leeks on paper towels.
    3. When slightly cool, remove the outside layer of the leek and discard, so you’re left with only the tender white and pale green parts.
    4. Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette: in a small bowl combine the mustard, chives and parsley together and add salt and pepper to taste. Add the capers. Add the lemon juice and then the olive oil, whisking to make a smooth sauce. Taste for seasoning.
    5. Spoon a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette on a serving plate or medium-sized platter. Arrange the dried leeks on top, and spoon the remaining vinaigrette on top. Sprinkle with edible flowers, if using.

    Six onion braised chicken with chives

    You can use any combination of onions you like in this simple braised chicken dish. I used leeks, scallions, shallots, yellow onion, garlic, and fresh spring chives. Serve over polenta, rice, noodles, or with warm crusty bread. This is a light spring dish ideal for those cool nights that still linger.

    Serves 4.

    Six onion braised chicken with chives. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)


    • 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
    • 3 leeks, dark and green sections discarded, pale green and white sections cut lengthwise, washed and cut into ½ inch size pieces
    • 1 medium yellow onion, quartered
    • 3 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
    • 1 large or 2 small shallots, thinly sliced
    • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • ½ cup fresh chives, minced, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish
    • 1 cup flour
    • One 3 ½ pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces (or 1 pound chicken breast, ½ pound drumsticks and 1 pound chicken thighs)
    • 2 cups white wine or chicken stock, or 1 cup of each
    • Garnish: Pickled red onions (see recipe below) and 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and chives


    1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
    2. In a large casserole or ovenproof skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and ½ tablespoon vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the leeks, onions, scallions, shallots, and the garlic. Cook, stirring, for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and half the chives and cook for 2 more minutes. Remove the onion mixture to a plate and set aside.
    3. Place the flour on a large plate and season liberally with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour, until coated on all sides.
    4. Heat the remaining oil in the same casserole or skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil, adding additional oil if needed, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the chicken as it browns and set aside.
    5. Use 1 ½ tablespoons flour from the seasoned flour you used to brown the chicken and add to the hot skillet or casserole. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring well. Raise the heat to high and add the wine (or stock) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and simmer for 5 minutes. Place the chicken back into the casserole or skillet and top with all the onions. Sprinkle with the remaining chives. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover, and place in the preheated oven for about an hour, or until bubbling hot and the chicken is cooked through. (To test, remove a piece of chicken and insert a small sharp knife; the juices should run clear yellow and not pink.) Serve hot sprinkled with the chive garnish.

    Pickled red onions

    Pickled red onions. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

    This is a simple, highly adaptable recipe. Thin slices of red onion are pickled with vinegar, salt and sugar. You can spice it up by adding peppercorns, chile flakes or slices of chile peppers, star anise, cumin or fennel seeds, fresh herbs–any flavor profile you like. The onions will be pickled at room temperature in about an hour or can be covered and refrigerated for about 10 days.

    Make about 1 cup of pickles


    • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
    • ¼ cup rice wine vinegar, or white wine vinegar
    • 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
    • 1 ½ teaspoons fine or Kosher salt
    • ¾ cup water
    • 1 medium red onion, very thinly sliced


    1. In a bowl or jar mix the two vinegars, sugar, salt, and water. Whisk to combine. Add the onion slices and stir well. Cover and let it at room temperature for 1 hour, then place in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

    Find more onion recipes here and here

    This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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