My teen years were spent in the farm country of southeastern Washington state in Walla Walla – home to the famous sweet onion of the same name. And like most kids in the area, I worked a summer packing these large onions into 50 pound sacks to be loaded onto large trucks to be shipped throughout the state and country. These onions were clearly a source of huge pride to the locals. Today, of course, that pride remains but it has been somewhat replaced by the increasing number of vineyards and wine producers in the area.
Back to the onions…
The sweetness in these onions are intense because of their relative low levels of sulfur and higher levels of sugar. I remember enjoying them in salads or donning a grilled hamburger. Some people even ate them raw like an apple, but I thought this was just showing off.
Fast forwarding to Zürich…
Several years ago during one of my regular trips to the market, I finally got enough nerve to inquire about the really large onions I always spotted from July through September. They never had a skin to them…and they were indeed very large. Just as I asked, a lovely elderly lady next to me jumped in (very rare in Switzerland) and told me all about these monster onions. She explained to me how sweet they were and what the Swiss normally do with them…which is boil them, slice them in half, scoop out the middle and fill them with ground meat. They are then topped with cheese and finished in the oven. I was intrigued, but since I don’t eat meat or cheese, the actual recipe didn’t appeal to me. I did buy one though and decided to slice it and roast it in the oven.
The result was surprising. The onion had a lot of water in it which means it stewed more than roasted, but when I tasted it…wow! The sweetness in this onion rivals anything I ever tasted back in my Walla Walla days and I was convinced…this is the king of sweet onions!
After researching this onion a bit more, I discovered this onion is a member of the Spanish onion family, which can grow to the size of softballs (my most recent purchase weighed in at over 1 Kg.). It is very mild, and like the Walla Walla Sweet Onion, it lacks the harshness associated with high levels of sulfur. The sweetness intensifies greatly when cooked and becomes a very good onion to use for those who do not like a strong onion flavor in their food.
1 large Spanish onion
ground fennel flowers
Slice the onion in half, remove the root attachment, then slice the onion into thick slices. Season with salt and coat well with olive oil. Add the ground fennel flowers (you can also use ground fennel seeds or ground cumin if you can’t find the fennel flowers) and mix well. Place on a large baking tray and put into the top part of a pre-heated 230°C oven with top heat. Grill the onions for 15 minutes…remove and toss about a bit, then put back into the oven for another 10 minutes. The onions should be a bit black around the edges and most of the water will have evaporated. Enjoy separately as a side dish or mix with another vegetable – I like mixing them with green beans or new potatoes.