There is perhaps no ingredient more useful or versatile—or taken for granted—than the humble onion. Sliced and eaten raw, the root has a sharp aroma and a strong, peppery bite. Cooking onions transforms them: Their crisp texture becomes tender and yielding, with a luscious sweetness to match. Translucent sweated onions bring body to soups and sauces, while deeply caramelized onions make a heavenly topping for that classic French tart, the pissaladière. Indeed, the onion is a building block of flavor in almost every cuisine—think of mirepoix, sofrito, and Southeast Asian onion-spice pastes. Without it, many of our most satisfying dishes would be rendered impossible. Happily, the vegetable has almost as many varieties as uses—the sweet and juicy Vidalia, the globular Spanish onion, the oblong and purple-hued shallot—each with its own peculiar beauty and growing season. In early fall, low-moisture storage onions are harvested, remaining at the market for about eight months. They keep us busy with stews, braises, and roasts throughout the cooler months.
HOW TO BUY
Choose heavy, solid-feeling onions with dry papery skins and no signs of moistness or soft spots.
HOW TO STORE
Store onions still in their skins in a cool, dry place—moisture breeds spoilage—for up to two months. Once they are cut, tightly wrap in plastic and store in the refrigerator; use within a few days.
HOW TO PREPARE
The sulfuric compounds in onions cause tearing and eye irritation when crushed; you can attempt to minimize these effects by freezing the onion for 15–20 minutes before cutting.