Tuesday, March 25, 2008
The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, is, I imagine, nearly as much of a gift as if I had been there at Mrs. Lewis' side and been able to learn from her directly the recipes she carried through too short a life in the kitchen. She left Virginia and went on to become the chef at Gage and Tollner in Brooklyn, all the while incorporating those first Southern nuances of home into her dishes for a venerable old steakhouse in a city which might not have been entirely familiar with her style. Surely, it speaks volumes of her depth of understanding of food and her remarkable talent as both chef and writer that her extraordinary books endure, as comforting as home and always as modern as each new year in which I open them. The passage of time has nothing on these recipes, though occasionally the season at hand or availability make it more difficult to recreate the dishes so deservedly precious to Mrs. Lewis and now, her readers.
It was on another trip through her books that I came across a recipe of hers that has made me curious since the first time I was lucky enough to read The Gift of Southern Cooking: Braised Spring Vidalia Onions. The sort of onions one needs to get this glorious dish off the ground are just not front and center for us in the north at this time of year, nor easily attained at any other.
Probably it would be best to be growing them behind the house and rip from the new spring earth the early green and white vidalia's in the morning. I imagine I would wipe them as clean as I could and lay them in the big blue basket at the center of the table for a couple of hours so I might have them to look at and be able to smell the spring ground in the house for a moment or two.
Sweet onions here at the moment are enormous Maui's and in terms of growth and size are, past, far past, the point described in that recipe I adore. Why, I weighed an average supermarket Maui and it was one and half pounds. Consequently, some other course of action needed developed for us dreaming-Southern part-time Northerner's. I enjoyed this little dish so much it almost helped me to forget Mrs. Lewis' young, "golf-ball" sized vidalia's which will have to wait for another spring day, in another place. In the meantime, I am enjoying the softball sized Maui's and toasting her in what I most certainly hope is a great warm southern kitchen in heaven, with platters full of biscuits and strawberry jam and a big blue basket in the center of the table.
Braised Full-Grown Sweet Onions
adapted from The Gift of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock
North Salem, 2008
4 lbs sweet onions
1/2 cup butter
1 cup chicken stock
2 tbls. fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp sea salt, more to taste
1/2 tsp white pepper, more to taste
Trim the onions and slice across the whole onion in 3/4 inch widths to make thick discs.
Heat a wide covered skillet with high sides over low heat. Add butter and heat until completely melted, do not brown. Add the onions and toss to coat as well as you can in the butter. Season lightly with salt and pepper. The skillet will be very full, (don't be afraid, once the water cooks out the onions will be much smaller and softer). Add the chicken stock and cover the skillet. Turn the heat to low, tossing the onions occasionally, 15 or 20 minutes, until all are tender. The onions will not remain in discs.
Take the cover from the skillet and turn the heat up to medium-low, allow the liquids to reduce until the onions are just glazed. Reseason and serve.