As I've written in previous columns, my dad's oldest brother, my late Uncle Joe, was a very picky eater who especially did not like onions.
Coming from a large Polish family, it's an unusual ingredient aversion and it didn't make his wife, my Aunt Rose, very happy while cooking and preparing meals.
After all, onions can be found in most anything, so it can be tough to cook without this flavorful root bulb.
At our farm, like potatoes and apples, they easily store throughout the winter and I've even been known to stroll out to the garden in the middle of January and in a pinch for a recipe or even just scrambled eggs, unearth a few small "stray onions" left forgotten in the ground along the now trodden rows of what were once lush garden vegetables and choice produce.
According to history, Alexander the Great fed huge quantities of onions (which traveled nicely in soldiers' provision bags) to his troops for "strength in battle." And on Ancient Egyptian tomb paintings, onions are depicted more than any other plant. Early Hebrew writings reveal that the Jewish people longed for onions after their flight from Egypt. And dating back to the Middle Ages, onions were prized to cure everything and anything from baldness to serious infections.
The green tops, which my mom loves to dice up and mix into fresh cottage cheese for added flavor, are a good source of Vitamin C and Beta Carotene. Eating onions has also been credited with lowering high blood pressure and lower cholesterol.
So it was not any surprise to me that last month's 8th Annual Pie Contest at Downtown Hammond's popular Bizarre Bazaar bestowed one of the top awards to an onion tart as the most flavorful and delicious find for this year's competition in the "savory pie" category.
Patty Grigatis of Lansing won with her onion tart, which is featured here today, along with the winning recipe from sisters Julie and Jasmine Lopez, who took home the overall grand price honors for their "In A Jiffy Chicken Pot Pie with Cornmeal Top Crust."
Easy Onion Tart
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold butter
3/4 cup water
Splash of apple cider vinegar (about 1/2 teaspoon)
3 tablespoons butter
1 large Vidalia onion, sliced
1/2 cup sour cream
1 (12- ounce) can evaporated milk
1 dry envelope of dry leek soup mix
1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese
DIRECTIONS: To make crust, whisk flour, sugar and salt together and cut cold butter into the mixture. Freeze this mixture for 5 minutes. Using a pastry cutter, blend flour and butter until butter is pea-sized. Pour water and vinegar over flour and butter. Toss and fold dough until well-mixed. Wrap in plastic and place in refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes. Roll out to use to line the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan. (Bottom crust can be partially pre-baked prior to adding filling if desired.) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large skillet, saute butter and sliced onions until lightly caramelized. Remove from heat and whisk in sour cream. Slowly whisk in evaporated milk. Whisk in dry soup mix. Whisk in eggs. Mix in shredded cheese until well blended. Spoon filling into prepared pie crust. Place pie on a cookie sheet and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes prior to serving. Makes 8 slices.
"In-A-Jiffy" Chicken Pot Pie
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup lard
2-4 tablespoons cold water
1 pound boneless chicken breast
3 to 4 cups chicken stock (reserved from cooking chicken)
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 cup flour
Garlic salt to taste
Black pepper, generous sprinkle
1/2 cup carrots, peeled and cut into coin-size pieces
1/2 cup sweet peas
1/2 cup diced potato pieces
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup diced green pepper
2 cups dry corn muffin mix
1/3 cup of milk
DIRECTIONS: To make bottom pie crust, combine flour and salt ingredients and work in lard, adding water 1 tablespoon at a time while kneading dough to create a workable consistency. Refrigerate dough for 15 minutes and then roll out to fit a large 10-inch round or oval, deep, glass baking dish. Line the baking dish with dough and pre-bake crust in 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. To prepare filling, boil chicken in just enough water to cover, adding in bouillon cubes for flavor. When chicken tests done, remove to cutting board and shred, reserving the cooking stock. Slowly whisk flour into the stock, stirring over heat to remove any lumps, until a semi-thick gravy forms. Over a low flame, return the shredded chicken to the gravy and season with a sprinkle of garlic salt and black pepper. Combine potatoes, carrots and peas and boil until tender, before adding to the simmering chicken and gravy, along with onions and green pepper. Pour filling into pre-baked crust. In a separate bowl, combine top crust ingredients and spoon over filling. Bake pie for 20-25 minutes or until top crust is golden. Remove and allow to stand for 30 minutes for filling to set before servings. Makes 10 servings.