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Published: Wednesday, July 11, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Walla Walla sweet onion get its due in corn relish

Over the years I've made quite a few blunders when working with the Walla Walla sweet onion.
The idea that they're so wonderful they'll fit in anywhere that a regular yellow globe onion would is far from the truth. Yes, they are wonderful. But stand in for a yellow globe? Not when any amount of cooking is involved.
By nature, the yellow globe is potent, with plenty of kick left after several hours in a stew pot to still render a recognizably onion flavor at the dinner table.
To expect a mild-mannered Walla Walla to stand up to such treatment is unreasonable. Not to mention a waste of a perfectly good onion. But as I said, that was a lesson I had to learn the hard way: by pickling the Walla Walla (10 minutes in a boiling water bath and it was history); by stewing the Walla Walla (it turns to mush); by using in highly seasoned dishes (''That's funny, I could swear I added an onion to this Szechwan chicken'').
Well, I learned my lesson. These days, I make sure this sweet Washington summer commodity is treated in ways that will compliment its crunchy texture and delicate flavor. For the last many years, the recipes I've created have been fresh salsas and relishes.
One such creation began in a grocery store. I was roaming aimlessly through the produce section hoping to be struck by inspiration when the produce manager called to me.
His tone was conspiratorial, as if he was about to roll up his sleeve to exhibit a row of Rolex watches that had ''fallen off a truck.''
Instead, he led me over to the corn.
''Jan, ya gotta try this!'' he whispered, reaching for an ear and peeling back the husk.
It was white corn, and when I bit into it, I discovered that it was, indeed, sweet. Very, very sweet. Sort of like ... sort of like ... (this is where the bolt of lightening streaked through my brain) ... sort of like a Walla Walla sweet onion.
So I bought some of the sweet white corn, a couple of colorful sweet bell peppers, some chopped olives, and, of course, a lot of Walla Walla sweet onions.
The resulting relish came together very quickly so I served it alongside the evening's grilled chicken breast. It was fantastic.
It also makes a colorful salad, and of course, even works well as a dip for tortilla and pita chips.
This is a delicious accompaniment to grilled chicken or steak. Also a colorful, flavorful base for salad mixtures (serve on a bed of greens, with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of parmesan or swiss cheese).
Walla Walla relish
1 cup chopped Walla Walla sweet onions
1 cup chopped tomatoes (use Roma varieties until local varieties are available)
3 ears of sweet corn (white or yellow), roasted (as directed below) or boiled, then cut from cob
1 4.25-ounce can chopped olives
1/4 cup chopped green sweet pepper
1/4 cup chopped red or yellow sweet pepper
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons (from an 0.4- ounce pouch) ranch dressing seasoning mix (any brand calling for buttermilk)
Combine all of the ingredients in a 1-quart bowl. Mix well, cover and refrigerate for 24 hours to blend flavors.
To roast corn: Prepare two ears of corn for roasting by removing all the silk and all but one layer of the husk. Dip each ear in water to moisten, then arrange the ears (with the husks covering the kernels), on a baking sheet. Roast in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and when the ears are cool enough to handle, cut off the kernels from the cob. Each ear should yield 1/2 cup of kernels.
Yields 3 1/2 cups relish.
Mushrooms and hazelnuts again! Two flavors that go so well together.
In this version, the mushrooms are cooked, plus, I'm bringing in the earthy-spicy quality of arugula and other young greens, and topping it off with a smokey, caramely extra-aged gouda. Heavenly!
Warm mushroom and baby greens salad with sweet onions, hazelnuts, and extra-aged gouda
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
6 cups of mixed baby greens (including baby arugula)
1 Walla Walla sweet onion, sliced thin
Hazelnut vinaigrette (recipe follows)
About 3/4 cup of coarsely chopped roasted and skinned hazelnuts
4-6 ounces extra-aged gouda (shredded in wide, slender sheets using a vegetable peeler or the wide side of a box grater)
Heat the oil and butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and saute until they begin to release their juices. Add the thyme leaves and continue cooking until the mushrooms become soft and golden. Season the mushrooms to taste with salt and white pepper, then remove the mushrooms to a platter.
To serve: Arrange the greens on 6 salad plates. Divide the sliced onions and sauteed mushrooms among the plates, arranging them on top of the greens. Deglaze the skillet with the vinaigrette, then drizzle it over the onions, mushrooms and salad greens. Sprinkle each salad with a portion of the hazelnuts and then generous sprinklings of the cheese. Serve immediately.
Makes servings for 6.
This is the vinaigrette for the mushroom salad above. It calls for hazelnut oil, which is not cheap. If you want to save the expense, go with extra virgin olive oil and you will be just fine. But, of course, you will have to change the title!
Hazelnut vinaigrette
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup hazelnut oil (or extra virgin olive oil)
Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, shallot, garlic and sugar. Slowly whisk in the hazelnut oil.
Makes about 1 cup.
Roasted sweet onions
2 Walla Walla sweet onions (or other sweets), 8 ounces each, with skins on, cut into 8 wedges each
3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
3 bay leaves
8 parsley stems
3 sprigs fresh sage, 4 inches long
2 sprigs fresh oregano
8 sprigs fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Place the onion wedges in a single layer in a shallow baking dish. Sprinkle with the garlic and herbs. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle evenly with the vinegar and olive oil. Roast in a 500-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until onions are lightly caramelized and barely tender.
Remove from oven and let cool. Serve at room temperature.
Yields 4 servings.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit," and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.
Story tags » CookingLocal Food

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