spring onion gratin - when a supporting actor takes centre stage

Spring onions regularly appear in my cooking. I don't think I have ever thrown any away. Not only because I use them frequently, but I find they are very sturdy and survive a lot longer in the vegetable box of my fridge. Occasionally I have to strip off an outer layer or discard a limp green stem. After having promised myself not only to fight foodwaste in my home, but also blogging here regularly, I feel I am developing a razor-sharp focus and awareness of what I have in my fridge. It also helped that I gave my fridge a thorough cleaning recently and just love to look at how structered, clean and orderly it looks. So I have seen this leftover bunch of spring onions sitting in the crisper of my fridge for well over a week and a half. They still look surprisingly fresh, but that is also due to the brandnew fridge that came with the flat when I moved in last year. But I catch myself procrastinating: "Oh, they still look good. There is still enough time. Today I am in the mood for something else." I wonder why mankind has this uncontrollable tendency to wait until things get really bad. Why always act with your back against the wall?! Am I waiting for these spring onions to come to life, corner me and force me to cook them?

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One thing I am learning with fighting foodwaste is keeping it simple. I am very much into dedicating myself to long and involved recipes, but this approach doesn't really help with using up leftovers. At least I haven't gotten to the point where I can do both. Nothing wrong with simplicity, but I sometimes find that I am being lazy if it's not long and involved or that it is not real cooking when I am doing something simple. However I am always intrigued when I see someone come up with a beautiful and stunning dish that does not comprise of a long list of ingredients and complicated method.

Coming back to the spring onions...I saw a very simple but beautiful dish in the book Dandelion & Quince by Michelle MacKenzie. It's mainly about using unsual fruit and vegetables. I find spring onions (or shallots as she calls them) not really an unsual ingredient, but it's unusal for them to take centre stage in a recipe. She dedicated a whole chapter to them and one of the recipes for a simple gratin was accompanied by a beautiful photo of the spring onions imbedded in melted butter and Comté cheese. If they zoomed in on the photo one could easily mistake it for a watercolour painting of a reed landscape.

I decided to change the recipe a little bit to my needs and what I had at hand. Michelle’s recipe asks for the spring onions to be blanched for about 5 minutes. I just used them as they were, set the oven to fan and 200 degrees and let it roast for about 10 minutes until the cheese was melted and bubbly and some brown spots started to appear around the edges. Some of the onions were already missing some of the green stalks, which I used for the roasted red onion and goats cheese salad I had last week. Some of the spring onions were looking limp and weren’t so vibrant in colour anymore. I thought it was good enough for me. I just cut the roots and some parts that were brownish. When they are cooked or roasted it doesn’t matter if they don’t look at their freshest to start with. Michelle used Comté in her recipe, which is not so easy to find. I had Parmesan in my flat, so decided to use that. Feel free to experiment with other cheeses. However I wouldn’t recommend anything that is too neutral (Mozzarella) or too strong (piquant Gorgonzola) in taste. Be careful with the salt. I would sample the cheese first to see if you need to add salt when seasoning.

  • bunch of spring onions

  • 125 g of finely grated Parmesan cheese

  • 100 ml single cream

  • olive oil

  • salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees fan (220 regular oven). Wash the onions and pat dry. Cut off the roots and parts of the stalks that don’t look fresh anymore. Put half of the cheese in a bowl with the cream and mix. Take a shallow gratin dish and grease with a glug of olive oil. Layer the spring onions in the dish, spread over the cheese/cream mixture and season. Scatter the rest of the cheese on top and season to taste. Roast in the oven for 10 minutes until the cheese has melted and is bubbling. Keep a close eye on it towards the end to prevent it from burning. Serve immediately with fresh bread.

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