Gardening Articles: Health :: Cooking
by Charlie Nardozzi
"Onions without the baggage," is how one chef describes shallots. They are easier to grow, too
If you appreciate the taste of onions but not their strong flavor and the inevitable onion breath they leave you with, or if you have difficulty growing onions in your area, then consider growing shallots. A staple in both French and Asian cooking, shallots (Allium cepa ascalonicum) are considered the mildest of all onions and are also more widely adapted and less finicky about growing requirements. Substitute shallots for onions in recipes where you prefer a milder flavor; saute them with a variety of vegetables and meats (see recipe below), slice and toss them fresh in salads or dressing, or oven roast them to bring out their sweetness. Shallots are wonderful in risotto and other delicate rice or noodle dishes for which only a hint of onion flavor is required. Green shallots, harvested before the bulbs size up, are similar to green onions and add a crisp texture to many dishes. No matter how you choose to prepare shallots, their mild flavor won't overwhelm other seasonings.
In most parts of the country, even in my Vermont garden (USDA Hardiness Zone 4), early fall is the best time to plant for a bountiful harvest next summer.
Shallots are classified into two groups based on shape: pear-shaped, often called the French-type, and round. Depending on the variety, the skin and flesh colors range from white to purple. There are many variations on these basic types, and although flavor depends on the variety, growing conditions, and weather, French-type varieties tend to have a more pronounced flavor. As a rule, stressed plants produce bulbs with stronger flavor.
Both round and French-types produce 1- to 2-inch-diameter bulbs. Some excellent varieties of French-type shallots include 'French Demi-Long', with copper-colored skin and purple-tinged white flesh, 'Gray', with papery gray skin and creamy purple flesh, and 'Pikant', a good keeper with mahogany skin and red flesh. Some excellent round varieties include 'Dutch Yellow', also a good keeper with copper-red skin and strong flavored white flesh, and 'Holland Red', a good keeping, red-skinned and -fleshed variety. In general, the firmer the bulb, the better it will store.