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Contributed Photo by Tori McKinney / Vidalia onions add an interesting sweetness to pizza.

Whatever concerns they might have had about excessive spring rains and manpower shortages because of the coronavirus are now behind Georgia farmers, who shipped Vidalia onions to stores late last week. In fact, the mild winter means those delicious sweet onions are arriving a little earlier than years before. Shipped on April 16, they are in markets now.

Bob Stafford, manager of the Vidalia Onion Committee, says this year's harvest is a good one with more than 9,000 acres planted earlier in the season.

Georgia's underground treasure is cultivated by hand by 60 registered farmers in 13 full counties and parts of seven others located in the southeastern part of the state, where the sandy, loamy soil contributes to their mild flavor. Even with other varieties of sweet onions grown throughout the world and shipped to the United States, Vidalia onions represent 40% of the market in America. More than 200 million pounds shipped across the country, and Canada too, in 2019, Stafford says.

Just as Vidalias are special, they require special handling, different from onions of a more sturdy nature. Their water content contributes to their sweet taste, but it also shortens their shelf life and makes them more susceptible to bruising. The key to preserving Vidalias is to keep them cool and dry. Here are some quick tips:

* In the veggie bin in the refrigerator: Wrap each bulb individually in paper towels, which will help absorb moisture, and place them in the crisper with the vents closed.

* In the legs of clean, sheer pantyhose: Tie a knot in between each Vidalia and simply cut above the knot when you want to use one. Be sure to hang in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area.

* On elevated racks or screens: Place them separately, not touching, in a cool, dry place. Don't store with potatoes, which make the onions go bad more quickly.

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Contributed Photo by Tori McKinney / Rings of Vidalia onions.

Yes, there are other sweet onions on the market, such as Walla Walla and Maui. And they're all good for eating raw on a burger; frying and making onion rings; or caramelizing to use in an untold number of ways, including as a topping for sandwiches, salads and pizzas. But there's just something about the South's beloved Vidalia onions that puts a smile on our face every spring.

"They're different than other sweet onions because they can only be grown in a small area in Georgia," Stafford says. "When people ask this question, I always say Vidalia onions are kind of like champagne, which can only be called champagne if the grapes are grown in the Champagne region of France. Same as a Vidalia."

The onions are so sweet, some people eat them like an apple. While this is not recommended if you plan on getting up close and personal with someone — they are still onions, after all — there are plenty of good recipes to make the most of the season. Here are some favorites from the Vidalia Onion Committee.

 

Vidalia Pear Honey Soup

This is a refreshing soup for warm weather with a nice kick of curry to pair with the sweet onions, honey and pears. The recipe is a past winner of the Vidalia "Sweet Memories" recipe contest.

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

4 medium Vidalia onions, peeled and chopped

3 sweet ripe pears, peeled, cored and chopped

1 tablespoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 quart chicken broth

1 cup cream

1/4 cup honey

1 cup plain yogurt

2 tablespoons minced chives

In a 2-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter with the oil over medium heat. Add the Vidalia onions and pears, stirring to soften, 2-3 minutes.

Sprinkle in the curry powder and salt. Stir for another minute until the curry is fragrant.

Stir in the chicken broth, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and allow to cool slightly before putting in a processor or blender to puree until smooth. (Or you can use a stick blender and skip the cooling step.)

Return puree to the pan, and add the cream and honey; heat through. Whisk in the yogurt and half the chives. Serve immediately, sprinkled with the remaining chives. Or chill the soup thoroughly and serve in chilled bowls, sprinkling with the chives. Makes 4-6 servings.

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Contributed Photo by Tori McKinney / Vidalia onions were shipped to stores on April 16.

 

Vidalia Primavera Pizza

1 pound pizza dough

1 1/4 cups grated smoked mozzarella (see note)

1 cup drained diced canned tomatoes, with Italian seasonings

10 thin asparagus spears

4 slices (about 1/4-inch-thick) Vidalia onion

3 ounces soft fresh goat cheese

1 teaspoon dried oregano leave

Drizzle of olive oil

Heat oven to 400 degrees; oil a large baking sheet or 12-inch ovenproof skillet. Roll out dough to a 12-inch round, leaving edges thicker to create a crust. Arrange pizza dough on oiled baking sheet or in skillet.

Top dough evenly with smoked mozzarella, leaving about a 1-inch border of crust around the edge; scatter diced tomatoes over cheese. Trim and discard woody ends from asparagus. Cut spears diagonally crosswise into 1 - to 2-inch pieces. Combine asparagus pieces and Vidalia onion slices (separated into rings) in a small bowl; lightly drizzle with olive oil. Spread asparagus and onions on top of pizza.

Pinch or cut off bite-size pieces of goat cheese, and scatter on top of vegetables. Sprinkle oregano over all, drizzle lightly with olive oil and bake on lowest rack in oven 20-25 minutes, or until crust is dark golden. Makes 4-6 servings.

Note: If you cannot find smoked mozzarella, smoked Gouda is a good substitute.

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Contributed Photo by Tori McKinney / Vidalia onions get their distinctive sweet taste from the sandy, loamy soil of southeastern Georgia.

 

Vidalia Shrimp Oriental

8 ounces uncooked fettuccine

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon oriental sesame oil

1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper

5 cups Vidalia onion wedges

1 cup sweet red bell pepper, cut in 1-inch chunks

1 pound extra large shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 teaspoons cornstarch

Cook fettuccine according to package directions; drain; place in a large bowl and set aside. Heat broiler.

Meanwhile, in a bowl combine soy sauce, vinegar, 1/4 cup water, ginger, sesame oil and ground red pepper. On a rack of a broiler pan, place Vidalia onion and red bell pepper. Lightly brush vegetables with soy mixture. Broil until vegetables just start to soften, about 3 minutes; turn and push to side of pan. Place shrimp in a single layer on broiler pan. Lightly brush with soy mixture. Broil until shrimp turn pink, about 1 minute; turn and broil until cooked through, about 1 minute longer. Add shrimp and vegetables to pasta.

In a small saucepan, combine cornstarch and remaining soy mixture until smooth; bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 1 minute; boil and stir 1 minute longer. Toss with pasta, and serve immediately. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

Email Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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