In New York City, certain Texan foods can be scarce. So whenever I do see them, I buy up the whole lot in fear I won’t have the opportunity again. For instance, if I see ruby red grapefruit in the winter, I buy up enough to fill my small refrigerator ensuring that I’ll be getting plenty of vitamin C in the next few days. Or in the spring, it’s the arrival of the Texas sweet 1015 onions that has me loading my entire basket with one single item.
Texas sweet 1015 onions, so named because you’re supposed to plant them on October 15, spent many years in development at Texas A&M, which resulted in the sweetest onions I’ve ever tasted. While eating uncooked onions is not something I usually enjoy, with the 1015 sweet onions it’s different—they are so mild and succulent I could eat a whole one raw with little more than a sprinkle of salt and a dash of balsamic vinegar.
That said, they’re mighty fine cooked, too. They’re my favorite onion for making onion rings and they’re also wonderful when you caramelize them and throw them on top of baked potatoes, stack them on hamburgers or stir them into sour cream for a delicious dip.
The 1015 has a very short season—they only grow from April to late May. And this is why when I do encounter them I buy as many as I can carry because I might not see them again, which is just what I did last week. As I worked through my latest acquisition, I’d eaten them in the ways mentioned above, but I still had a few left. While I wasn’t getting tired of them, I was looking for something new. And that’s when I learned about Texas 1015 sweet onion and rice casserole.
When I was soliciting new ideas for eating my onions, a friend mentioned that a casserole one of her favorite ways of enjoying them. While she didn’t have a recipe she did know that rice and cheese were involved. How can you go wrong with that? My interest was piqued.
A little research lead me to a host of methods but most of them involved cooking the rice in half-and-half as the casserole baked, which can sometimes lead to uneven results. So instead I simply tossed together cooked rice with cooked onions, stirred in some sour cream, chipotle chiles, garlic and some spices, then I topped it with Gruyere cheese and threw it in the oven. After baking, it smelled wonderful but its monochromatic appearance was a bit bland so I livened it up with a splash of cilantro for green.
The result was like a savory rice pudding and it was definitely just as comforting. It makes for an excellent side dish, though if you wanted to add some bacon, pinto beans or chorizo, it could work as a main dish, too.
May you enjoy this year’s sweet onions soon and often. I know I will, as it’s one of the best things about spring!
Texas sweet onion casserole with rice, chipotle and Gruyere
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large Texas sweet 1015 onions, peeled and chopped (about 2 pounds)
3 cups cooked rice
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of cayenne
2 cloves garlic
1 or 2 chipotle chiles en adobo, diced (depending on how hot you want it)
2 cups sour cream
2 cups shredded Gruyere (8 ounces), divided
Salt to taste
Chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large ovenproof skillet, preferably cast iron, on low heat melt the butter. Add the chopped onion and while occasionally stirring cook for 10 minutes until soft.
Meanwhile, stir together the cooked rice, cumin, allspice, cayenne, garlic, chipotle chile, sour cream and 1/2 cup of the Gruyere cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings, then add salt to taste. Add rice mixture to the skillet and stir until onions are mixed well with the rice. (Alternatively, you can bake the casserole in a greased 10-inch baking pan.) Top with the rest of the Gruyere cheese and bake for 30 minutes uncovered or until brown and bubbling. Serve topped with cilantro, if you like.
Yield: 8 servings