Poor little scallions.
They're always there in the market, year round, and are what most of us think of as "green onions." They're so commonplace that we take them for granted and even forget that they have a season (which is now).
The most we ever seem to do with them is to thinly slice and sprinkle them over the top of a salad or chilled soup, or, occasionally put them to use as a finishing garnish for a hot dish.
Rarely do they get to shine on their own, which is a pity. Especially in the spring, when they're seasonal and so vibrant with color and flavor, they can offer us a whole lot more than a brightly herbal, mildly oniony garnish.
One of my own favorite ways to use scallions, which will surprise no one who has read this column more than once, is as a sauce for pasta. They require so little preparation and cooking, and yet bring so much wonderful, fresh flavor to the bowl.
The simplest and best use of them involves absolutely no cooking beyond boiling the pasta. The scallions are thinly sliced and tossed with the hot pasta, butter and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. That's all there is to it.
The other recipes that follow are nearly as simple. You don't want to do too much to these delicate little onions or they'll lose the bright, fresh spring flavor that is their whole point.
Rotini with Bacon and Scallions
The meat for this is actually American bacon, not Italian pancetta. You want that little hint of smokiness in this dish.
2 bunches (about 2 dozen) thin scallions
4 slices extra thick-cut bacon (preferably applewood smoked)
Olive oil or unsalted butter, as needed
1 clove garlic, minced
Whole black pepper in a mill
1 pound rotini (short fusilli) or penne pasta
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1. Trim root ends and browned tops from onions and remove wilted or yellowed leaves. Slice on diagonal 1-inch thick, separating white and green parts. Cut bacon crosswise into Â¼-inch wide strips. Put in skillet over medium heat and saute until browned and fat is rendered.
2. Add oil as needed to pan and put in white parts of scallions and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until scallion is wilted and tender, about 2 minutes. Turn off heat. Season with pepper, taste and adjust salt as needed.
3. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil and add small handful of salt. Add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente.
4. When pasta is almost done, gently reheat sauce and add scallion greens. Drain pasta, add to sauce with parsley and toss. Add half the cheese, toss and serve immediately, passing remaining cheese separately.
Penne with Broccoli and Scallions
1 pound fresh broccoli, preferably slender stemmed or broccolini
1 bunch (about 1 dozen) small, thin scallions
12 ounces (Â¾ pound) penne pasta
About 3 tablespoons olive oil
2 small cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Whole black pepper in a mill
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1. Bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil over high heat. Meanwhile, wash broccoli under cold running water and trim base of stem. If any fresh leaves are attached, pull off but reserve to use. Peel away tough skin of stem and cut florets from it. Cut or break florets into bite-sized pieces, then cut stem into short, bite-sized sticks. Wash, drain, and trim scallions. Thinly slice on the diagonal, separating white and green parts.
2. When water is boiling rapidly, add a small handful of salt and stir in pasta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente (from 8-12 minutes, depending on pasta). Meanwhile, drizzle a sautÃ© pan with olive oil, add garlic, and warm over medium high heat. When garlic is sizzling and fragrant but not colored, add broccoli and toss to coat it with oil. SautÃ©, tossing often, until broccoli is bright green and garlic is the palest gold, about 2 minutes or less.
3. Add white part of scallions, broccoli leaves (if any), toss well, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Add splash of water, cover, and lower heat to medium. Braise until crisp-tender, adding more water if pan gets too dry, about 3-4 minutes longer. Turn off heat, uncover, and season with pepper. Toss and taste, adjusting salt and pepper (keep in mind cheese will add a salty element).
4. When pasta is ready, drain, reserving about Â¼ cup cooking water, and add pasta to pan with broccoli. Add reserved scallion greens and butter. Toss rapidly until butter is melted and coating pasta, adding a splash of reserved cooking water if not creamy enough. Add Â½ cup Parmigiano cheese and toss, again adding a spoonful or so of reserved cooking liquid if not creamy enough. Divide among warm serving bowls and serve immediately, passing remaining cheese separately.
Linguine with Asparagus, Shrimp, and Scallions
Anchovy and asparagus may seem a little odd, but here the anchovy brings what bacon or pancetta would to the asparagus and shrimp: it underscores and brings up their flavors, but isn't allowed to dominate.
Serves 4 as a main dish or 6 as a pasta course
1 pound asparagus, preferably fat-stemmed
2 bunches (about 2 dozen) slender scallions
1 Â¼ pounds medium to large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Â½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, lightly crushed, peeled, and minced
Â¼ to Â½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, to taste
1 pound linguine
1 teaspoon anchovy paste or 2 small anchovy fillets packed in olive oil, patted dry and minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf (Italian) parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped oregano
1. Bring 4 quarts water to a rolling boil in 6-8 quart pot. Wash and trim cut end of asparagus. Peel tough parts of stems (lower third) with vegetable peeler. Cut off tips and set aside; cut stems in 1-inch lengths. Trim scallions and thinly cut on diagonal into 1-inch-long pieces, separating white and green parts. Cut shrimp into 2-3 pieces.
2. Stir in small handful salt and asparagus stem pieces into boiling water. Cook 1 minute and lift out with skimmer. Keep water simmering.
3. Put oil and garlic in large, heavy-bottomed skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat. Saute until garlic is fragrant, about 5-10 seconds after it begins sizzling. Add hot pepper flakes to taste and white parts of scallions and toss until scallion is translucent and garlic is barely beginning to color, about 30 seconds. Turn off heat.
4. Stir linguine into boiling water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente using package suggestions as rough guide. When pasta is almost done, reheat skillet over medium-low heat.
5. Add shrimp, anchovy, asparagus stems, and asparagus tips to pan, raise heat, and season with salt if needed. Tossing constantly, cook until shrimp are just curled and pink. Add herbs and scallion greens and turn off heat. Toss well.
6. Drain pasta, immediately toss with sauce and serve. This sauce should not be served with cheese.
Thin Spaghetti with Butter and Scallions
This is that simple sauce in which the scallions are not cooked at all. I've published this recipe before, but it's so worth repeating.
Serves 4 to 6
4 small, thin scallions or very young, thin spring onions
1 pound thin spaghetti (or spaghetti or angel hair)
Â½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese, plus more for serving
4-5 tablespoons best quality unsalted butter
1. Bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil. Wash, thoroughly drain, and trim scallions, removing any discolored leaves. Pat dry and thinly slice. When water is boiling, stir in handful salt and pasta, separating strands as they soften. Cook until al dente.
2. Have ready warm serving bowl. Quickly drain pasta, taking care not to over-drain, and immediately pour it into warm bowl. Add scallions and half the cheese and rapidly toss until cheese is melted and forming creamy coating on pasta.
3. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and half remaining cheese and toss until butter is melted. Add 2 more tablespoons of butter, remaining cheese, and toss until butter is melted and pasta is evenly coated with creamy butter and cheese mixture. If it looks dry, add another spoonful of butter and toss until incorporated. Serve immediately, passing more cheese on the side.