March 10, 2008

A Salad

The dreary last days, if we’re lucky here in western Pennsylvania, of winter are really starting to get to me. I'm yearning for sunlight and t-shirts!

This arugula salad is something we might typically have as part of a late dinner on a spring evening, after the kids have gone to bed, along with a grilled steak rubbed in a good extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and a healthy dose of fresh herbs. We actually ate it Sunday with some leftover pizza (for which a small portion of said arugula had, the night before, been a topping, along with fresh mozzarella, caramelized onions, and prosciutto).

Now, you could save yourself a little trouble and use raw red onions. However, the red onions I have had this winter have been almost unbearably strong. I have a theory about why this is the case.

Several years ago I watched an episode of “Good Eats” all about onions on the evil network. Alton Brown claimed that, as a defense mechanism to ward off hungry vegetable predators, onions release a chemical irritant when they are cut. I have noticed, however, that the onions we get from the CSA rarely bother my eyes when I cut them. Yet, I am regularly reduced to a wincing Wendy when dicing or slicing grocery-store onions.

My theory: onions grown by massive, factory farming operations are bathing in what I can only assume is heavily abused soil, rife with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This hostile environment pumps up their defense mechanisms, causing them to be hyperactive and unleash their toxic fury on unsuspecting home cooks everywhere.

The onions from our local farm, however, are not bullied by chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and thus are a more tranquil veg, more than happy to be part of a avocado and tomato salad or rest upon the top of a grass-fed beef burger.

I have no idea if this has any scientific validity whatsoever. Nevertheless, long story short, for this salad, I let the heat do some work on my red onions.

Baby Arugula Salad with Lemony-Oregano Vinaigrette

  • Half cup of walnuts, roughly chopped
  • Big bowl of baby arugula
  • 1 cup of thinly sliced red onions
  • Pecorino Romano
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 3-4 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon of oregano, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Turn oven to 325 degrees.

Combine lemon juice with oregano, salt, and pepper. Whisk in half-cup (or more) of olive oil. Lemon flavor should be strong, but not overwhelming.

Toast the walnuts in the oven for 3-5 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. After a minute or two, add onions and sauté for 5-10 minutes, until onions are soft and beginning to brown/caramelize.

Sprinkle walnuts and onions over arugula, shave a healthy amount of pecorino over top, and toss with about two-thirds of the dressing. (NOTE: The salad should not be drenched in dressing.) Serve immediately.


Farmer Troy said...

I need to disagree with your onion theory . . . the reason an onion (especially the ones stored over winter) gets strong, is because it is getting ready to sprout. There is a natural time clock in each member of the onion/garlic (allium) family, and when "the alarm goes off," that means it's time to wake up from hibernation, and start to grow and get ready for reproduction.
This in turn causes EXTREMELY strong flavors and scents.

Note: I am just a farmer, not a scientist, and this theory is based on years of observation, not science. I might be completely off the mark.

THANKS, and Happy Spring!!!

Fillippelli the Cook said...

Thanks very much for your thoughts, Troy. Makes sense to me.

So, with my CSA onions, I am eating onions that were just plucked from the ground and thus are nowhere near ready to start reproducing, thus their more reserved, palatable flavor?

Many grocery store onions, I guess you're saying, have been sitting around in cold storage, out of the ground for some time, and their reproduction cycle has already kick, creating, as you say, these extremely strong flavors.

Yet another reason that I can't wait 'til May.

Farmer Troy said...

Yes, that is what I am saying, and now that Spring has arrived in Western PA., there is a chance your CSA onions may want to start sprouting also . . . my garlic in storage has not yet started to sprout, but it will probably be starting soon (within a month or two).