After a long, cold winter subsisting on roots and tubers, we simply can’t wait to get our hands on incredible, warm weather produce. But it will still be a few weeks yet before farm stands and restaurant menus begin overflowing with fiddleheads, sweet peas, asparagus and more. In the meantime, you can content yourself with a wide array of spring onions — which, much like crocuses, are generally the very first verdant signs of life to appear, merrily popping through the still occasionally frosted ground.
So what are spring onions exactly? Basically, the term “spring onion” can apply to any allium harvested while the bulbs are still green. And yes, this grouping includes delicate, wide-leaved, lusted-after ramps (also known as wild leeks), as well as scallions (alternatively called green onions). But “spring onion” most directly refers to the mild-tasting, young shoots of regular onions, which have a small, not fully developed white bulb end, with long, green stalks.
But no matter what you call them, the truth is spring onions are incredibly versatile across the board, owing to their bright freshness, wonderfully mellow onion flavor, and the fact that they’re entirely edible; from the leaves to the bulb. That’s why they’re part of Amanda Cohen’s allium-adulating Grilled Onion Salad at Dirt Candy, as well as in her puffy, deep-fried Scallion Pancakes. They’re also frequently served at Brooklyn’s esteemed Semilla, charred whole and served with romesco sauce for dipping.
Chef David Standridge tosses wild onions into his Ivory Lentil Risotto at the health-conscious Café Clover, while at his old haunt, Market Table, spring onions add pep to an otherwise wintry dish; Crispy Chicken paired with parsnip mousse and mushroom gravy. Floyd Cardoz sprinkles scallions over his Taro Crisped Halibut at White Street, which is a lovely counterpoint to tangy green mango and meyer lemon. And onions play an unexpected role in dessert at The Gorbals; featured in a Vidalia Caramel-soaked Brownie, served with charred scallion ice cream and candied onions.
See how multi-faceted spring onions can be? So the next time you’re in the greenmarket, consider picking up a bunch or two; but be careful to select slender specimens with plump, erect, deep-green leaves that extend from the firm, root end. Avoid onions with wilting or decaying tops or bulbs with translucent, soft, or brown spots — the base should be whitish in color for two or three inches.
Once you get your onions home, remove any rubber bands or damaged leaves, wrap in a plastic bag and store in the vegetable crisper section of the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Keep green onions away from food that absorb odors, and wash them before use. You may also want to peel the outer layer of the bulb off to better access the tender, crunchy interior.
When it comes to actually using your supply of spring onions, the sky’s the limit, but remember that they can range in taste from mild and smooth to pungent and biting. True “spring onions” are sweeter and mellower than regular onions, but the greens are more intense in flavor than scallions. Cooking scallions or spring onions, however, will mellow and even out the differences, so in that sense, they’re fairly interchangeable.
The bulbs of spring onions can be used in much the same way as regular bulb onions, and are great grilled or even roasted whole. You can combine a wide range of onions into a silky soup cut with tender, sweet peas, or slice scallions on top of rice or stir-fries. Fold spring onions into eggs, omelets, quiche or Asian scallion pancakes, sprinkle them on top of seasonal pizzas and crostinis, or use as garnish for tacos and burritos. Toss spring onions with pastas, grind into pestos, serve with grilled meats or fish, incorporate into compound butters, and most of all, be sure to pickle your precious ramps, so you can have access to that wonderfully mild, spring onion flavor all year long!
86 Allen St., btwn Broome & Grand Sts.
160 Havemeyer St., btwn. 2nd & 3rd Sts.
10 Downing St., btwn. Bedford St & Avenue Of The Americas
54 Carmine St., btwn. Bedford & Bleecker Sts.
221 W Broadway, btwn.White & Franklin Sts.
98 N 6th St., btwn. Wythe Ave & Berry St.