Best ways to savor scallions this spring
Although scallions grow year-round, they are especially wonderful in spring, when they help us clear out the figurative cobwebs of winter. They are invigorating and, according to Chinese tradition, they help expel cold and rid the body of toxins. If you follow a hyper-seasonal diet, you may find yourself craving scallions right about now; it’s your body talking to you.
But what is a scallion? Is it simply a young onion? No, not really. Let me explain.
A true scallion, also correctly known as a green onion, is a bunching onion. It does not form a bulb. In a home garden, they can be planted in close clusters and harvested as needed. Most scallions are green and white, though some varieties have red pigmentation near their roots.
At this time of year, we also see spring onions and green garlic at our farmers markets. It can be easy to confuse them, but they are not identical or interchangeable. A spring onion is a young onion, harvested before the bulb has begun to form or just after it starts to swell.
All these onions have hollow stems, as do their little cousin, chives, which are in full bloom right now. But a chive stem is smaller than, say, a straw; scallions have a much bigger circumference.
Green garlic, garlic that hasn’t yet formed a bulb, can look similar from a distance, but a quick examination of the stems is an easy way to tell them apart. Garlic stems are flat; onion stems are round.
Scallions are enjoyed almost everywhere in the world. You’ll find them sliced in Japanese miso soup. Asian green onion pancakes have legions of fans. And you’ll find them in an array of Italian pasta sauces.
There is one relative of scallions that has not yet become popular in the United States, though there are whispers of it here and there, including locally.
In Catalonia, early spring is the time for calçots, which are celebrated in calçotadas, a messy feast that begins with calçots being grilled over fire, wrapped in newspaper to steam and enjoyed with romesco sauce.
A calçot resembles a very long green onion, and it is a bit fatter than what we are used to. The outer green leaves are not eaten; instead, you snap the inner white stem from the charred outer stems, swirl it in the sauce and devour it. You do this again and again, until someone plops another platter of them onto your table, and then you keep going.
Last year, Marimar Torres scheduled a Calçotada at her Green Valley winery, Marimar Estate, but it was canceled, of course. The season for calçots will have passed before things open up all the way this year, but perhaps there will be a celebration next year. In the meantime, you can enjoy a mound of grilled scallions with romesco sauce to mirror the experience, at least a bit.
Taquerias and Mexican cafes often offer grilled scallions as a side dish. They are delicious with all types of rice, beans and grilled meats. I enjoy these with a chilled dry rosé or a Spanish Cava.
Grilled Scallions with Romesco Sauce
Serves 2 to 4
Romesco sauce, recipe follows
3 bunches scallions, root ends trimmed
2 teaspoons olive oil
Black pepper in a mill
Lime wedges, optional
Make the romesco and set aside until ready to use.
Set a heavy ridged pan or stovetop grill over high heat.
Put the scallions on a clean work surface, drizzle with the olive oil and turn so they are evenly coated.
When the pan is very hot, add the scallions in a single layer. Cook for several minutes, until they begin to soften and pick up a bit of color. Turn and continue to cook until they are evenly browned and tender. Transfer to a serving plate, season with salt and pepper and garnish with lime wedges, if using. Enjoy hot, with the romesco alongside for dipping and swirling.
When you make this sauce in the summer or fall, replace the tomato paste with a ripe dense-fleshed tomato.
Winter Romesco Sauce
Makes 2½ cups
1 dried red chile, such as ancho or pasilla, or 2 dried guajillo chiles
2 egg yolks, at room temperature
5 garlic gloves
¼ cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 sweet red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and seeded
1 tablespoon double-concentrated tomato paste
1½ cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
Black pepper in a mill
Two hours before making the sauce, cover the chile with hot water and set aside.
Drain the chile and put it into the work bowl of a food processor, along with the egg yolks, garlic, almonds and teaspoon of kosher salt. Pulse until the mixture forms a smooth paste.
Add the sweet pepper and pulse again until smooth.
With the machine operating, slowly add half the olive oil. Stop the processor as necessary to push ingredients down from the sides of the container. Continuing to process, slowly add the vinegar and the lemon juice, followed by the remainder of the olive oil.