Wine Pairings and Peak Fresh Produce -- Onions
Going through a farmer's market, you see bushel baskets full of peak fresh produce. Unless you're a vegetable connoisseur, though, you might not know what to do with each variety.
That happened to me on a recent trip to the farmer's market. I'd gotten a later start than usual, and the visions of squash, zucchini and maybe a nectarine or two dissipated when I saw basket after basket of onions. They had your yellow onions, your white onions, your green onions, your pearl onions and even shallots. They looked fresh, especially the shallots and green onions, vivid green and pure white. And oh-so-obviously in season. Half a grocery bag at this stall costs only $5 – one happy hour martini with said pearl onions – so I decided to fill up and see what to do with these onions.
As it turns out, there's a lot to do with any fresh fruit or vegetable that's in the peak of its season.
French Onion Tart
The earthy flavors of caramelized onions and whole wheat dough contrast with the tang of feta in
this quick, easy tart. Pair the onion tart with a peppery taste such as in-season radishes or bitter greens salad. Cook in individual tart pans for special occasion or party.
For the fresh herbs, choose whatever you have in your herb garden or can pick up at the
farmer's market. The original recipe calls for thyme, but I grow basil and rosemary, so I used those. Marjoram and oregano would also work.Called French Onion Tart because of the sweet caramelized onions typical of French Onion soup.
See here for the method of roasting bell peppers.
- 1 T olive oil
- 1 1/2 lbs fresh onions, sliced
- 1 C roasted bell pepper, skin removed
- 2 T chopped fresh herbs
- 3/4 tsp mineral salt, such as pink Himilayan
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 package whole-wheat pizza dough
- 1/2 C crumbled feta cheese
- 1/2 C shredded Swiss cheese
Company-worthy? A deluxe snack?
- Preheat oven to 425°. Broil bell peppers, set aside, peel. Slice into 1-inch pieces.
- Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Lower heat and add onion. Cook slowly about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to turn golden. Add herbs, salt, and pepper; cook an additional 5 minutes.
- Roll dough out on a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle feta cheese in center,leaving a 1 1/2-inch border; top with onion and bell peppers. Sprinkle with Swiss cheese. Fold pizza dough up and over about 1 inch of filling, pleating as you go.
- Bake at 425° for 25 minutes or until golden. Cool for 10 minutes. Serve warm. Makes 6 servings.
Wine Pairings for French Onion Tart
The sweetness of the caramelized onions calls for a tart wine while the earthiness begs for a vibrant fruit flavor.
- American Fumé Blanc: These wines, made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, are tenderfruited, usually with flavors of melon or peach, occasionally citrus. The gentleness of these wines serve as a foil for the tangy feta and earthy crust.
- Bordeaux White: Also from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, though occasionally mixed with Sancerre, these wines also feature fruit flavors, though they tend more to the citrus of grapefruit and lemon. They also carry more minerality than the American variety, matching well with the sweetness of caramelized onions.
- Rioja Crianza: Rioja wines, from the same-named region in Spain, are from the tempranillo grape; sometimes a small percentage of Grenache is mixed in. Crianza-style ages in oak casks, either French, American or both. Rioja wines generally feature red-fruit flavors such as cherry and strawberry; oak-aging softens the tannins with flavors of chocolate, vanilla and spice. The layers of these wines stand up to the multi-faceted flavor of the French Onion Tart.
- Chianti: Forget those candle-stuffed straw-covered bottles. Chianti wine comes from the Sangiovese grape frown and fermented in the Chianti region of Italy, essentially between Siena and Florence. These crisp, cherry-tinged wines have just enough tannin to cut through the cheesiness of the French Onion Tart.
Baked Vidalia Onions
Vidalia onions lack the sharp taste of yellow onions. They are considered a sweet onion because they have a mild, sweet back taste. Because Vidalia onions don't stay fresh as long, they require refrigeration.
These baked Vidalia onions get topped with oaky morel-mushroom butter. Morel mushrooms are those funny fungi that look like a swiss-cheese brain on a stalk. Check Asian markets if you can't find the fresh variety – or the cost is too prohibitive. This is a mushroom with a fan club.
Remove the bottoms of the stalks on the morel mushrooms. Wipe cap and remaining stalk with a dry paper towel to remove dirt. Slice into quarter-inch pieces.
- 3 large Vidalia onions
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces morels, sliced
Splash white wine
1 stick butter, softened
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- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
- Tightly wrap onions in heavy foil. Place on a cookie sheet and roast in the oven for 35 minutes.
- In a large skillet, heat oil. Sauté morel mushrooms until cooked; they should be tender and golden. Add a splash of wine to deglaze, scraping brown bits from the pan.
- Put soft butter in a medium bowl. Fold in cooked morel mushrooms. Place butter mixture onto waxed paper and form into a log. Wrap and place in refrigerator until ready to serve.
- When onions are ready, use a paring knife to cut a hole at the top of the onion. Place a pat of butter into each hole. Serve warm.
Wine Pairings for Baked Vidalia Onions
Baked Vidalia Onions are best served as an appetizer. As such you want a crisp, not heavy wine. You also don't want too much complexity; it will compete with the earthy, oaky flavor of those renowned morel mushrooms.
Onions as Deluxe Appetizer
How willing are you to let an onion serve as the centerpiece of your wine party?
- Champagne: A luxurious dish such as Vidalia onions with morel mushrooms calls for an equally deluxe wine. Champagne, which only comes from the like-named region of France, has a distinctive yeasty-bubbly flavoring that pairs well with the earthy tones of the morel mushrooms. Crisp Brut Champagne complements the sweetness of the baked Vidalia onions.
- Pinot Gris: Pinot Gris is the French-Alsace version of Pinot Grigio. Fuller bodies and more aromatic than their Italian counterparts, Pinot Gris offers mineral and citrus flavors that stand up to the earthy-sweetness of this appetizer.
- Pinot Noir: Light in tannins, these refined wines make a velvety complement to this lavish appetizer. Their elegant flavor of currant, spice and herb match the oaky morel mushrooms. Choose a California variety for fruit or an Oregon variety for herb.
- Barbera: This Italian wine is an ideal match for almost any food. Fruit-forward for an Old World wine, the cherry and raspberry flavors add an extra dimension to the sweetness of the Vidalia onions. Their rustic spice finish harmonize with the morel mushrooms.
Next time you're at your local farmer's market, don't shy away from the variety of onions. Peak-fresh vegetables – and in-season fruit – always produce flavorful dishes. Experiment with your food and wine pairings, keeping in mind the traditional flavors of the wine and how they will complement your dish. Enjoy!