Georgia’s Official State Vegetable

Once again, there’s much excitement as millions of Vidalia onions are getting ready for harvest in Vidalia, Georgia—just over a 3-hour drive from Atlanta. The date for the annual Vidalia onion crop release is about a month away.

The city of Vidalia’s way of celebrating this year’s crop includes multiple activities—from tethered hot air balloons to recipe contests, as well as concerts and street dancing. It’s going to be a lively time in Vidalia.

However, a lot more than flavor and festivities ride on this famous onion’s release date. This 20-county onion region is likely to add $125 to $150 million to Georgia’s economy. For the farmers and others who reap the benefits, they can almost taste their financial reward.

A Sweet Onion Begets Good Health

The National Onion Association’s (NOA’s) director of public and industry relations Kim Reddin reminds the world that onions have layers of flavor imparting color, texture and nutrition to so many dishes. That’s her job.

Courtesy of Vidalia Onion Committee

“But it’s easy to understand why they are the third most consumed fresh vegetable in the U.S.,” she said proudly, as Reddin discussed their sweet and savory essence.

According to the NOA, it’s easy to overlook the nutritional facts of vegetables like the onion. “For example,” Reddin said, “onions are high in vitamin C, a good source of fiber, and with only 45 calories per serving, they add abundant flavor to a wide variety of food.” In addition, onions are sodium-, fat- and cholesterol-free, and they happen to provide a number of other key nutrients, she added.

Today, 125 million pounds of Vidalia onions can be put into these special storage units for up to seven months, which extends fresh Vidalia onion availability into the fall holiday season, notes the UGA Cooperative Extension website. The actual production season typically lasts from April to June. Thus, these succulent Georgia onions are market ready for several months, longer with special storage.

Beginning in 1990, technology borrowed from the apple industry was adapted to onions. This brought about controlled-atmosphere storage for Vidalia onions. Onions require an atmosphere of 3 percent oxygen, 92 percent nitrogen and 5 percent carbon dioxide, according to the Vidalia Onion Committee.

Brenda Reid, Media and Community Relations Manager, Publix, had a few stories to tell about the Vidalia onion season. “Our buyers work very closely with the growers to ensure all produce arrives in our stores at their season’s peak,” said Reid. “Our customers expect high quality and great taste and it’s our job not to disappoint them.”

One method we use for Vidalia onions is a taste test, Reid explains. “When the Vidalia onions are picked, our buyer gets a sample of the product. He actually bites into the onion like it’s an apple,” said Reid. “If the onion is sweet and has a mild flavor then he knows the crop is ready, and that’s when we complete the order.”

Lead image courtesy of the Vidalia Onion Committee

 

Pesto Flatbread with Sweet Onions and Asparagus

Courtesy of the National Onion Association

Recipe and image provided by the National Onion Association. Developed and photographed by Lori Rice.

  • Makes 4 to 6 servings
  • Prep time: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Baking time: 15 minutes

Pesto:

1 cup loosely packed basil leaves

2 tablespoons raw chopped walnuts (Georgia pecans also work well!)

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 clove garlic, peeled

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon fine ground sea salt

Place the basil, walnuts or pecans, Parmesan cheese and garlic in a small food processor or blender. Pulse until the ingredients are finely chopped. Add the olive oil and salt. Blend until a smooth, thick paste forms.

Flatbread:

1/2 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees F.)

1 teaspoon dry active yeast

1 teaspoon white granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

Extra virgin olive oil

3 ounces thick asparagus stalks, trimmed (about 3 thick stalks)

1/2 medium sweet yellow onion, sliced

2 tablespoons toasted chopped walnuts

2 to 3 ounces goat cheese

In a small bowl, sprinkle yeast over the warm water. Add the sugar and stir a few times. Let sit until the yeast blooms, about 5 minutes.

Add flour to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment. Turn the mixer on low; pour in the yeast. Mix on medium until the dough comes together to form a ball, about two minutes. It may be slightly dry at this point.

Add the pesto to the mixer. With the mixer on medium, mix until the pesto is blended into the dough, about a minute. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 3 minutes, until it’s smooth and elastic.

Form the dough into a ball. Coat a large bowl and the ball of dough lightly with olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl, cover with a clean dish towel and let rise for about one hour or until it doubles in size.

While the dough rises, use a vegetable peeler to peel the asparagus stalks into thin ribbons. Carefully peel as much as possible from each stalk. Protect your hands by laying the stalk flat on a sturdy surface while your work. Next, bring about 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium-saucepan. Add the asparagus ribbons to the boiling water and cook for 60 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate covered in a paper towel to drain.

Spray a baking sheet with olive oil or non-stick cooking spray. Punch down the dough and place it on the baking sheet. Use your hands or a rolling pin to spread to an 11- to 12-inch circle.

Arrange the onion slices on the top of the dough. Start with the larger slices and fill in with the smaller slices, working your way around the surface of the dough. Gently press the onion slices into the dough. Let rise for 15 more minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Bake the flatbread for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove the flatbread from the oven and brush the surface with olive oil. Serve warm topped with asparagus, toasted walnuts (or pecans) and small crumbles of goat cheese.

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