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Seasonal Pantry: The appealing subtlety of shallots


As I walked through the Sebastopol farmers market on a warm Sunday morning, I noticed a basketful of plump shallots.

The crop was just starting, the vendor told me, which means we should have plenty for the fall and winter holidays.

A bit later, I spotted another farmer with shallots, deeply colored red ones. Ahhh, it's going to be a great season.

Shallots are one of the culinary alliums, a cousin of garlic, onions, leeks, scallions, ramps and chives. The shallot is milder than both garlic and onions and can insinuate itself into a wide variety of dishes without overwhelming other ingredients.

It is suave and elegant, with an appealing subtlety. When it is used with other alliums, any dish blossoms with a full spectrum of flavors, which is why I always add shallots of my French onion soup.

Shallots are essential in most vinaigrettes; it is best to let them macerate in the vinegar for a few minutes before adding other ingredients. Roasted, they are luscious and creamy and can be folded into soup, vegetable purees and sauces, or combined with eggs and cream for a lovely savory flan.

Shallots should be stored in a cool, dark and somewhat airy space. Keep them away from potatoes, and do not put them into plastic bags. A small basket, a cloth bag or a wire basket should keep them fresh for several weeks, provided the room is not warm.

For more shallot recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit this column's companion blog, "Eat This Now," at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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This hot and tangy dish is inspired by one I found in "Lilies of the Kitchen" (St. Martin's Press, 1986) by Barbara Batcheller, who found her inspiration in North Africa. It is best as part of a buffet that includes roasted meats and poultry. I like to serve whole milk yogurt alongside to tame some the wilder flavors.

<strong>Lentil Salad with Shallots and Serranos</strong>

<em> Makes 4 to 6 servings</em>

1/2 pound (about 1 1/4 cups) green or black lentils, rinsed and drained

6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

— Kosher salt

6 large shallots, trimmed, peeled and cut into lengthwise quarters

2 or 3 serranos, stemmed, seeded and cut into thin lengthwise julienne

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 to 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

— Black pepper in a mill

3 tablespoons mildly flavored olive oil, plus more to taste

3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley or cilantro

Put the lentils into a large saucepan, cover with water by at least two inches, season generously with salt, add the garlic and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender but not falling apart, about 30 minutes. Drain and transfer to a serving bowl.

While the lentils cook, prepare the dressing. Put the shallots and serranos into a medium bowl, season lightly with salt and several turns of pepper, add the vinegar and lemon juice and toss gently. Set aside.

When the lentils are done and have cooled slightly, add the shallot mixture and the olive oil. Toss, taste and correct for salt and acid; if it is too tart for your tastes, add a bit more olive oil. Add the parsley or cilantro and serve warm or at room temperature.

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This sauce is inspired by one I had many years ago in Zurich, Switzerland, where it was slathered over grilled bockwurst nestled into a toasted roll. That sauce was made with onions, but it is at least as good and possibly better when made with shallots. Serve it with your favorite grilled sausages, and have plenty of good cold beer alongside.

<strong>Shallot Mustard Sauce for Sausages</strong>

<em> Makes about 1 1/2 to 2 cups</em>

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound shallots, trimmed, peeled and very thinly sliced

— Kosher salt

1 cup beef stock, preferably homemade

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard or coarse-grain mustard

— Black pepper in a mill

Set a medium saute pan over medium low heat, add the olive oil and shallots, and saute gently until the shallots are very limp and fragrant, about 15 minutes; do not let them brown.

Add the beef stock, increase the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes so that the flavors come together. Reduce the heat to low, stir in the mustard, heat through and remove from the heat. Taste, correct for salt and season with several turns of black pepper.

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Having this aromatic butter on hand makes it quite easy to pull together a delicious meal in record time. I've added several suggested uses at the end of the recipe, but you should feel free to come up with your own, as well.

<strong>All-Purpose Shallot Butter</strong>

<em> Makes about 2 cups</em>

8 medium shallots, peeled and minced

4 or 5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/4 cup dry sherry

— Kosher salt

— White pepper in a mill

— Pinch of ground allspice

2 sticks (8 ounces) local butter, at room temperature

3 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley

Put the shallots, garlic and sherry into a small saucepan, set over medium heat and cook until the liquid is reduced to barely a tablespoon. Do not let the shallots or garlic brown. Remove from the heat, season with salt, a few turns of pepper and the allspice; let cool.

Put the cooled shallot mixture into the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until smooth. Add the butter and pulse, operating the machine for about 20 seconds. Stop, scrape the sides and pulse again until smooth.

Set a piece of parchment paper on your work surface and use a rubber spatula to scrape the butter onto it. Shape the butter into a cylinder about 1 1/4 inches in diameter and wrap the parchment around it. Wrap the parchment package tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for an hour or two before using.

To use, unwrap and slice off as much as you need. The butter will keep in the freezer for up to 2 months; it will keep in the refrigerator for about 7 days.

<strong>Suggested uses</strong>:

Toss with steamed, blanched or roasted vegetables immediately before serving.

Toss with hot pasta or steamed rice, add a bit more chopped Italian parsley and serve as a side dish.

Serve with baked potatoes or baked sweet potatoes and add plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

Top sauteed fish with a small coin just before serving.

Top potato soup, winter squash soup or sweet potato soup with a coin of the butter just before serving.

To make a pan sauce, add a tablespoon or so to a pan in which you have cooked meat or seafood, whisk with the pan juices, add a good splash of wine, correct for salt and pepper and spoon over whatever you have cooked.

Cut four thin coins of butter and push under the skin of chicken just before roasting.

For deliciously juicy burgers, form each patty around a 1/4-inch thick coin of butter and grill either rare or medium rare.

<em>Michele Anna Jordan hosts "Mouthful" each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. E-mail Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com. You'll find her blog, "Eat This Now," at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.</em>