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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

Kosher salt

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.

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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.

Transfer to a medium bowl, season generously with black pepper, taste and correct for salt. Mix well, cover and keep in the refrigerator until ready to use. The sauce will last three to four days.

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Scallion Soup with Scallion Gremolata

Makes About 6 servings

30 (about 5 bunches) scallions, roots and stem ends trimmed

3 tablespoons butter

Kosher salt

1 large or 2 medium russet potatoes, peeled, washed and thinly sliced

6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade

Zest of 3 lemons

2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced

Black pepper in a mill

Set the scallions on a clean work surface and cut them into thin rounds. Set aside about half a cup of the scallions.

Set a large saucepan over medium heat, add the butter and, when it is melted, add the remaining scallions. Season lightly with salt, stir and cook gently until they are completely wilted and have begun to soften, about 15 minutes; do not let them brown.

Add the potato, season with salt and pour in the chicken stock. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat; simmer gently until the potatoes are fully tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let rest a few minutes.

While the soup cooks, make the gremolata. To do so, put the reserved scallions into a small bowl. Add the lemon zest, garlic, a couple of generous pinches of salt and a couple of turns of black pepper and use a fork to toss gently. Cover until ready to use.

Use an immersion blender to purée the soup until very smooth. Season with several turns of black pepper; taste and correct for salt. If the soup is too thick for your tastes, thin it with a little water, ¼ cup at a time. Reheat as necessary.

To serve hot, ladle into soup plates, top with a spoonful of gremolata and enjoy.

To serve chilled, refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Ladle into soup plates, top with a spoonful of gremolata and enjoy.

Variations:

  • Add a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger when you add the potatoes and stock. Top the soup with a few shakes of toasted sesame oil, along with the gremolata.
  • Top each serving with a generous dollop of crème fraîche before adding the gremolata.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The Good Cook’s Book of Oil & Vinegar.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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