Hand drawn image of Onion

Onion

Allium cepa

A humble vegetable, but a very important one – almost every meal begins with the peeling of an onion. They make a brilliant base for all sorts of dishes, from soups, stews and stocks to pasta sauces, stir-fries and curries. Ours are pretty pokey, so have some tissues to hand!

Image of Onion being produced

In the kitchen

Storage

Keep cool and dry, preferably somewhere with a bit of air movement so they can breathe. They should last a few weeks.

Prep & Cooking tips

They are quicker to peel and slice if topped, tailed and halved first. Any trimmings are a welcome addition to a stock pot. Tricks to avoid tears? Learn to live with the momentary discomfort! Any crazy contraptions or contortions will surely increase your risk of detaching a digit.

Brown onions aren’t often eaten raw, though maybe in a well-seasoned slaw. Recipes almost always understate the time it takes to soften an onion. You’ll need at least 5-10 mins until they even start to yield and lose their raw edge. Slow-cooked they will collapse down into a sweet, golden tangle. Try roasting them in wedges or even baking whole until meltingly tender.

Video: Whole baked onions | Veg Hacks

Easy ideas

1. Raw

For the most part standard brown onions are far too strong to be eaten raw. If part of an eclectic and well-dressed slaw they should be tempered and tolerable. Likewise a simple salad of raw onion, chopped mint and black onion seeds works as a side when balanced by a fierce and aromatic curry.

2. Slow cooked

Put sliced onions in a saucepan with oil or a walnut sized knob of butter and a pinch of salt. Cook gently for 40 mins. You can let them take on a little bit of colour, scraping the bottom of the pan and giving regular turns, but add a little water if they look like they may catch or burn. You should have a sweet, golden and buttery tangle. This is a great base for a French onion soup or onion gravy.

3. Baked whole

Cut a deep cross into each onion, almost down to the root but not quite. Force some softened butter and a few sprigs of thyme into the cut. Rub the onion with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place your onions into a snug fitting roasting tray, add a dash of water, cover well with foil and bake at 200˚C/Gas 6 for 40 mins before removing the cover and finishing for another 10 mins.

Goes well with

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Onion recipes

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In the field

  • Meet the grower: Nigel Venni, Sacrewell Farm, Cambridgeshire

    Sacrewell Farm is Riverford’s home in the East. We’ve been farming there since 2007; it was the first ‘sister’ farm to our original Devon HQ.

    Read more

Seasonality

The season begins with fresh, green onions with their tops on from May. Dry white and red onions are around from July to February.
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Varieties

  • Picture of Barbosa onions

    Barbosa onions

    Similar in appearance to normal onions, Barbosas have a slightly fresher, sweeter flavour - and because they don’t have a ‘set skin’, they are much easier to peel.

  • Picture of Bunched onions

    Bunched onions

    Picked while the necks are still green, tender bunched onions are gentler than regular onions, and you can eat the whole thing. Use them as you would an onion, or slice finely and enjoy raw in salads.

  • Picture of Red onions

    Red onions

    Slightly sweeter than regular onions. The maroon-skinned bulbs are good raw in salads, or roasted, whole or in wedges, with a little sugar or honey. They can stand in for yellow onions in most recipes.

  • Shallots

    Milder and sweeter than onions. They require more effort to grow and dry (and peel) but are worth it for recipes calling for a less astringent taste. Use them finely diced in dressings, salsas and garnishes or roast them whole.

  • Picture of Spring onions

    Spring onions

    These milder younger siblings of the main-crop onion bring perky flavour to your kitchen. Toss into stir-fries, frittatas and tarts, or chop finely and enjoy raw in salads.

  • Yellow onions

    Regular, all-purpose onions (a.k.a. brown or white onions). Their pungency depends on variety, growing conditions and length of storage. Enjoy them sharp and punchy when eaten raw, or mellow and caramelised after a long, slow cook.

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