The common onion has one or more leafless stalks that reach a height of 2.5-6 feet and terminate in a cluster of small greenish white flowers. The leaf bases of the developing plant swell to form the underground bulb that is the mature, edible onion. Most commercially cultivated onions are grown from the plant's small black seed, which is sown directly in the field. Onions are among the hardiest of all garden-vegetable plants.
Onions are among the world's oldest cultivated plants. They were probably known in India, China, and the Middle East before recorded history. Ancient Egyptians regarded the spherical bulb as a symbol of the universe, and its name is probably derived from the Latin unus, meaning "one." The Romans introduced the onion to Britain and, in the New World, American Indians added a highly pungent wild onion to their stews, ragouts. Curative powers have been attributed to onions throughout the centuries; they have been recommended for such varied ailments as colds, earaches, laryngitis, animal bites, powder burns, and warts.
Pictured are Cipolline onions, an Italian varitey of onion that was brought to North America with immigrants at the begining of the 19th century. Almost all Cipolline seed still comes from Italy.
Cipolline onions are reveared for their flat or saucer shape witch allows for considerable browning. They are considered to be more complex in flavor, usually rich and sweet equally, while staying firm once cooked.
Cipolline onions are one of my favorite ingrediants. While cleaning them is often a daunting task, they are sometimes agressivly priced pre-cleaned. I prefer to cook them in a sautee pan, starting out hot, with a little oil, then finishing with butter at a lower temperature. As you can see these onions tend to get very tender, but hold their shape rather well.
The onions pictured where first used as an side dish to a grilled strip steak. Then they went into a creamy goat cheese and fingerling potato salad. I've pickled them in the past with great resaults as their inherient sweetness plays well with vinager, cinnamon, and clove.