What are Egyptian walking onions?
I must admit that my curiosity could not resist such a bizarre name for an onion cultivated mainly in western Liguria, so I expressed my interest to receive a book entirely dedicated to this subject, as well as to receive Egyptian walking onions to experiment with in the kitchen.
First of all, the name. In reality, the adjective ‘Egyptian‘ has nothing to do with the Egyptian civilisation, so much so that it is also known to the world by many other names, a fact which, in addition to its ease of cultivation, has made it somewhat mysterious, favouring its spread from the 1600s onwards. Already at that time, the onion was present in Russia and particularly in Siberia where it withstands even the cold winter temperatures. This capacity has meant that it has become a valuable source of nutrition for local populations, mainly due to its high vitamin C content, which is not easily available in areas with such hostile climatic conditions.
Yet, the Egyptian onion is also perfectly adapted to the Ligurian climate where, planted in the soil, it is able to produce several onions overhead and for long periods of time. The small bulbs develop in place of the traditional flower and are buried to give rise to other plants that grow easily and without requiring much attention.
If the bulbs are not harvested, the long stems on which they grow bend under their own weight and end up touching the soil where they root, giving rise to new plants. Hence the name of ‘walking onion‘. Economically, this onion has three types of harvest: the green leaves, the underground bulbs (which are left for the following harvest) and the topsets.
Size: a surprise
Reading about all these rather unusual characteristics, my imagination started working on what I could prepare with these perfect strangers, but since onion soup is one of my favourite dishes, my first thought was to use them in this way. But what did I discover when the envelope containing 7 little treasures arrived? First of all, they are really tiny so the thought of soup was instantly erased.
A second aspect that had struck me was reading that in many preparations the long leaves are used, so this time I had thought of a recipe in which the lush, green part was emphasised. My choice? I had thought of empanadas filled with vegetables, including Egyptian onion leaves, and served with a few fried leaves and a grating of hard sheep’s milk ricotta.
You can therefore imagine that, having received the bulbs without the green part, my second idea also tragically stalled. So, having to prepare dinner for two hungry teenagers and a husband well past his teens, but with the same appetite, I decided to use the bulbs as if they were precious little truffles, grating them raw, fragrant and succulent, over freshly made buffalo ricotta small gnocchi. A curiosity: one of the reasons why the Egyptian onion is so popular in cooking is that, even raw, it does not leave its scent in the mouth once consumed!
I don’t know how the other recipes I had thought would turn out, but this use of onion met with our approval. And you know what? I used 4 and planted the remaining 3 in the vegetable garden, so I am hoping for a small harvest in a few months to continue the experimentation!
Would you like some more gnocchi recipes? Try these Gnocchi with hare.
Buffalo ricotta gnocchi with saffron and Egyptian walking onion
carbohydrates 14.8g uncooked plain gnocchi
Ingredients for 4-5 servings
- 600g buffalo ricotta
- 200g Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
- 160g pasta flour mix, brand Petra 03** or bread flour, brand Nutrifree**
- 10 cherry tomatoes
- 2 eggs
- 50g milk
- 4 Egyptian onions
- 0.25g saffron
- basil, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper
**Ingredients specific for celiacs
*Ingredients whose labels must read “gluten-free” (or, in Italy, present on Prontuario AIC)
- Mix ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, flour and egg, adjust salt and, when even, place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
- Form cylindrical strips and cut out small gnocchi.
- In the meantime, put a few tablespoons of oil in a non-stick frying pan and sauté the cherry tomatoes cut into quarters and with the seeds removed. Season with salt and set aside.
- In a pan, large enough to hold the gnocchi once cooked, pour in the milk and dissolve the saffron together with a few tablespoons of the gnocchi cooking water and a pinch of salt.
- Cook the gnocchi in slightly salted boiling water for a few minutes and as soon as they rise to the surface, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them in the pan with the saffron; allow the sauce to thicken and the gnocchi to gain flavour over medium heat.
- Assemble the plates by placing the saffron gnocchi, sautéed cherry tomatoes, a few basil leaves, a grated or very thinly sliced Egyptian onion (I used a Microplane grater to make this sort of carpaccio) and finally freshly ground pepper.
- It is a tasty and aromatic dish and above all fresh and perfect for summer.
Version with gluten of Buffalo ricotta gnocchi with saffron and Egyptian walking onion
Replace the gluten free flour with 180g conventional flour.