When I made that scrumptious spinich lasagna the other day, I (for the first time ever) bought shallots. The recipe called for them, so I blindly bought them. I never had before because they seemed no different than small onions to me - expensive small onions.
As I dined on my leftover lasagna tonight, I started thinking about those shallots. I noticed the lasagna didn't really have a distinguishable onion flavor, so why did I have to put those expensive onions in there then? I decided to find out.
For Valentine's Day, my husband bought a copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking for me - not because he is an inconsiderate oaf who doesn't know how to treat a woman but because I specifically asked for it. (PS - he also gave me a ginormous bouquet of lillies). On page 19 of my gift is where I started my shallot research. I figured if Julia couldn't explain it to me, no one could.
Julia says, and I quote, "Shallots with their delicate flavor and slightest hint of garlic are small members of the onion family. (ha! I was right. So why not just use onions, Ms. Child? hmmm?) Julia reiterates, "delicate flavor!" and continutes, "The minced white part of green onions (spring onions, scallions, ciboules) may take the place of shallots. If you can find neither, substitute very finely minced onion dropped in boiling water, rinsed and drained. Or omit them altogether."
Sooooo, all types of onions belong to the genus Allium and shallots (Allium ascalonicum) are mildly flavored onions as are spring onions (Allium fistulosum) AND boiling the eye-watering, nose-burning, pungent regular yellow onion (Allium flavum) gives it a milder flavor. (Oh, I see.) AND...garlic too is an Allium (Allium sativum to be specific) which is presumably how shallots can taste like mild onions AND garlic. Whew!
A little more research led me to discover there are actually some 700 or more species of Allium - and not all are edible. Come to think of it, I did see several species in my Breck's bulb catalog. (ow, my head)
Well, I've always heard, "Use the right tool for the job." I guess this is a clear-cut case of, "Use the right onion for the job!" From now on, if a recipe calls for shallots, I shall use shallots!
(Thanks to http://brecks.com/ for the picture of Allium caeruleum - "Azure Allium.")