On a recent trip to Washington state's hottest wine country (both in terms of temperature and explosive growth; the "next Napa Valley" is home to more than 100 vintners), I tasted some great wine, but that's not what I came home with. My trunk was loaded with 55 pounds of Walla Walla Sweets.
Before world-class cabernet, merlot and other Euro-riffic varietals were being produced in this corner of the state, Walla Walla was all about the onion. Many of the small Mom-and-Pop farms started by Italian immigrants are still in operation today, the fruits of their labors for sale in roadside stands heading east of the town so nice, they named it twice. I bought my big bags of onions at Cavalli's Onion Acres Farm and Castoldi's.
While visiting, I wondered why more restaurants didn't give the Sweets star treatment they richly deserve. I enjoyed a French onion soup at Brasserie 4, but the local veg connection wasn't mentioned on the menu. There was a Walla Walla Sweet Onion Tart on the menu at Whitehouse Crawford, but by the time I wandered in after dinner, I was in the mood for dessert. And, drat, there was no Walla Walla Sweet Onion sorbet offered.
The very best dish I tried featuring local onions was the Walla Walla taco at La Monarca, a truck that routinely parks at the corner of Rose and 11th. Vibrantly seasoned carne asada, grilled onions, and a fat slice of avocado were piled on top of a couple of corn tortillas. The ingredients tasted so fresh and the single taco was just $1.50. (Reinforcing the reason we all love the best taco trucks, right?)
During this year's Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival, organizers have added a new attraction called the Sweet Skip, where onion lovers can wander around downtown July 18 and graze on savory stuff made from Sweets. Wonder if anybody plans on churning some Walla Walla Sweet Onion Ice Cream with a sprinkle of candied bacon on top? I'd eat that!
In the meantime, I'd love some onion-centric recipes. I've still got about 40 pounds.