Call onions the steady-eddies of cooking, we cook them every day but rarely take notice. Thanks to this classic French side dish called 'soubise' [pronounced soo-BEEZ], we'll never take onions for granted again. Soubise combines thin ribbons of onion with rice and a little cream and cheese. Dreamy. Heavenly. Ethereal. Addictive. Yes, it's that good.
When Norman Borlaug died at age 95 last fall, it saddened me that his life’s work was vilified. Borlaug was the Midwestern scientist who championed modern farming practices across the world, not unlike, isn’t it so, the indigenous American peoples who bioengineered corn and potatoes millennia before. Borlaug’s work in agronomy, genetics and plant pathology is credited with saving a billion people from starvation. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.
Then there’s St. Louis’ own Monsanto, the company whose Round-Up and genetically modified (GMO) seeds evoke controversy. In 2006, Monsanto formed a vegetable and fruit seed division to develop new strains of broccoli, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, melons and more.
First out of the dirt is a mild onion called EverMild introduced this month by Monsanto and St. Louis’ largest grocery chain, the family-owned Schnucks Markets. I attended a media lunch where chefs prepared an all-onion meal, everything from caramelized onion pizza and French onion soup (delicious!) to a fruity onion sorbet (no thanks).
Call me conflicted. Nobody stands up for kohlrabi, say, like Kraft stands up for Kool-Aid. Nobody stands up for green beans, say, like General Mills stands up for Golden Grahams.
So when science and investment produce higher-yielding, disease resistant, longer-lasting, better-tasting or more nutritious vegetables and fruits, isn’t that what we ask and expect from American ingenuity? Isn’t that a sign of progress, not a certain problem?
If it takes a company the size of Walmart versus the passion of Whole Foods (see “The Great Grocery Smackdown” from this month’s Atlantic) to save small family farms, can we allow the possibility that the Monsantos of the world must be afforded the chance to contribute?
Thoughts, readers? Do we want companies to stand up for fruits and vegetables? Can we afford to? Can we afford 'not' to?
No debate about Julia Child’s recipe for Soubise [pronounced soo-BEEZ], the onion and rice side dish: it’s fabulous. My friend Anne Cori calls it ‘French risotto without the stirring’ but the rice almost melts into the noodle-like strips of onion. Come to think of it, yes, with eyes closed and tastebuds open, there’s a mac ‘n’ cheese dimension to soubise, a swanky grown-up mac ‘n ‘cheese, for sure, but mac ‘n’ cheese nonetheless. Pair it with meat, a roast chicken, say, or thin slices of rare beef tenderloin or even as the ‘starch’ with a weekend pot roast or brisket. Last week, I served it with Moroccan Chicken, twas dreamy.
COOKING with Monsanto’s EVERMILD Onions The onions are supposedly tearless but in my experience, not. Because I wear contacts, I never have trouble crying over cut onions but with EverMild, I did, so did two others who helped cut vegetables for a family birthday party. (I know, I know, this is a bad sign.) EverMild onions are 'long day' onions for harvest in the fall, sold up until March, when Georgia’s famous Vidalia onions, 'short day' onions harvested in the spring, become available. For the moment, EverMild onions are only available at Schnucks Markets in St. Louis. More about Monsanto EverMild Onions from Monsanto itself and St. Louis’ only newspaper doing investigative journalism, Riverfront Times.
JULIA CHILD’S SOUBISE RECIPE
(ONION & RICE CASSEROLE)
Time to table: 90 minutes
Makes 4 cups
- 2 cups salted water (or enough to cover)
- 1/2 cup rice (see TIPS)
- 4 tablespoons butter (1/2 a stick, see TIPS)
- 2 pounds onions, trimmed, peeled and sliced very thin (see TIPS)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup cream
- 1/2 cup grated Gruyère (about 1 ounce), (see TIPS)
Preheat oven to 300F.
RICE Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan, add the rice and cook for exactly 5 minutes. Drain immediately.
ONIONS Melt the butter on medium heat in a large oven-safe skillet (see TIPS) with a lid. Drop in the onions as they’re prepped, stirring to coat with butter. Once all the onions are in, briefly sauté them. Stir in the rice, salt and pepper.
BAKE Cover and bake for an hour, stirring once or twice. Remove from the oven, stir in the cream and cheese. If the rice is still a little undone, return to the oven for 10 – 60 minutes (see TIPS). Serve and savor. Can be made ahead and reheated.
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