Cooking with Georgia's vidalia onions: Our state's official vegetable adds flavor and sweetness to summer dishes

dminty@ledger-enquirer.comApril 30, 2013 

Georgia cookbook author Rebecca Lang is this year's Vidalia Onion Committee spokesperson. The Vidalia onion, Georgia's official state vegetable, grows April through September.

"I was born and raised in Georgia's Vidalia growing region and have a long respect and love for the Vidalia onion," says Rebecca. "I'm thrilled to support what I consider to be America's favorite sweet onion this summer."

Lang shares several of her favorite Vidalia onion recipes with her magazine this month.

Her Vidalia Spread is a staple at summer parties, when it makes it to the table. "It's hard to not sit there with a spoon and eat it all at once," she warns.

Vidalias don't have as long a shelf life as other onions but store them in a cool, dry place and you'll extend their shelf life. Lang keeps her Vidalias in a cabinet and spreads them out on a shelf so they're not touching each other or the potatoes. A Vidalia's mild, sweet flavor makes it more popular with children than other onions. Even her 7-year-old son Camden, who Rebecca thinks might be the pickiest child on earth, will try them as will her 3-year-old daughter Adair.

"I like to have them all season long," Rebecca says. "They're great grilled. I love them stuffed. People eat them raw to caramelized," she says.

Rebecca even uses Vidalias in spicy recipes.

"Sweet and spicy is such a good combination," she says.

Visit VidaliaOnion.org for details on how to enter the Sweet Vidalia Flavors of Summer Contest, which begins May 1. Categories are: Grilling Favorites; Summer Salads, Sides and Desserts; Marinades, Sauces, & Salsas; and Summer Table-scapes. A winner from each category will receive $1,000. The top five from each category also will be considered for the grand prize -- an outdoor entertaining package valued at $5,000. The deadline to submit entries is August 15.

Apple-Glazed Sausages and Vidalias

The apple juice in this morning-time side dish creates a sweet glaze for the spicy sausages. Make the rest of your meal as the sausage cooks for a lazy weekend breakfast.

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

Hands-on Time: 35 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

1 1/2 pounds mild Italian

sausage

2 tablespoons extra virgin

olive oil

1 Vidalia onion, thinly sliced

(about 2 cups)

1 cup apple juice

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground

pepper

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped

fresh rosemary

Cook sausage in hot oil in a large skillet over medium heat 8 minutes or until browned on all sides. Remove from skillet. Cut each sausage into 3 equal pieces (112 to 2 inches each).

Add onion to skillet, and saute 10 minutes or until soft. Return sausage to skillet. Stir in apple juice. Cover and cook 10 minutes.

Uncover, stir in pepper, and cook 5 minutes or until liquid has reduced and glazes sausage and onion. Remove from heat. Stir in rosemary. Serve immediately.

Stuffed Baked Vidalias

The South's famous sweet onions are grown only around Vidalia, Georgia. The low pH of the soil gives the onions a mild, sweet, irresistible flavor. In onion country, we eat them nearly every way possible.

Makes: 4 main-dish or 8

side-dish servings

Hands-on Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hr., 35 minutes

4 (12-ounce) Vidalia onions

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground

pepper

1 pound ground pork sausage

4 ounces sharp Cheddar

cheese, grated on the small

holes of a box grater (about 1 cup)

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut 12 inch from top of each onion. Leaving root end intact, cut off a small amount of root to make a flat bottom. Hollow out center of each onion, leaving 34-inch thickness on bottom and sides, using a grapefruit knife or paring knife. Reserve removed onion for another use.

Sprinkle onion cavities with salt and pepper. Arrange in an 8-inch square baking dish; cover with aluminum foil.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until fork-tender.

Preheat broiler with oven rack 8 inches from heat. Brown sausage in a medium skillet over medium heat, stirring often, 8 minutes or until meat crumbles and is no longer pink. Drain on and blot with paper towels.

Combine sausage, cheese, and mustard. Carefully spoon into cavities of hot onions, mounding sausage mixture on top of onions. Broil 2 to 3 minutes or until stuffing is browned and bubbly.

Vidalia Spread

I grew up in Vidalia country and enjoy the famous sweet onions in nearly everything. I still get excited to see the first green tops peeping through the sandy soil, a hint of the coming onion season. This ultra-rich dip, served warm, is always a part of my menu when friends visit.

Makes: 6 to 8 servings

Hands-on Time: 21 minutes

Total Time: 51 minutes

4 bacon slices

2 Vidalia onions, diced

(about 4 cups)

1 (8-ounce) package cream

cheese, softened

1/3 cup mayonnaise

4 ounces goat cheese

2 Tablespoon all-purpose

flour

1 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh

rosemary, plus more for garnish

1/8 teaspoon salt

Crackers and crudités

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat 5 minutes or until crisp; remove bacon, and drain on paper towels, reserving 2 teaspoons drippings in skillet. Crumble bacon.

Sauté onion in hot drippings over medium heat 6 minutes or until translucent. Transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in cream cheese and next 5 ingredients. Spread into an ungreased 8-inch square baking dish.

Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Remove from oven, and top with crumbled bacon. Let stand 5 minutes. Garnish, if desired. Serve warm with crackers and crudités.

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