Ingredient Focus: Scallions

If you're timid about using onion in your recipes, start with scallions-they are a delicious baby step into the onion world. Though scallions have other monikers like green onions, spring onions or onion sticks, they are milder than most onion varieties.

Scallions are part of the allium species, though unlike the onions you might think of, scallions have green leaves and lack a fully developed root bulb. They are packed with vitamins A and C as well as potassium, calcium and iron.

If you plan to grow your own, start with some varieties of scallions like Evergreen Long White Bunching and Lisbon White Bunching, which come in beautiful deep purples and greens. Scallions grow best in sunny areas in alkaline-light soil and are best when grown until they are a couple inches tall (or about 2 months). If you let them grow more, the taste won't be as delicate.

Scallions are versatile flavor-boosters in the kitchen. Saute or stir-fry scallions in recipes for soups or stir-fries. Mince scallions with a sharp knife or even with a food processor for use in pestos and sauces. Raw scallions give dishes more crunch and a fuller, more onion-like flavor. Many Asian and Eastern cuisines use raw scallions in their dishes like lettuce chicken wraps.

Make sure you remove all dirt and grime from the scallions by washing your scallions thoroughly before cooking. When you chop scallions, you can use a number of different ways including just trimming the tops off and using the whole piece for decoration or slicing them to be used more as a seasoning like in your potato salad.

Are you a scallion lover? What are your favorite scallion recipes?

Photo: mapper-montag

5 Great Pasta Enhancers

Boil water, add pasta, dress with sauce-an easy Italian dinner, but one that can quickly becomes repetitive and dull. Spice up your pasta life with these five easy enhancers! Pasta tastes great cold, too. Pack up any leftovers for an outdoor picnic.

1. Asparagus and bacon: The arrival of spring means that fresh asparagus is once again a hot menu item. After roasting your asparagus spears until tender, mix with your favorite pasta shape and crumble bacon on top. Olive oil and a hard cheese like Grana Padano bring the whole dish together.

2. Lemon zest and parsley: A little lemon zest and minced parsley go a long way towards making a pasta dinner interesting. Citrus and green herbs make pasta light and refreshing. Try this enhancer with corkscrew or ridged pastas, shapes that will deliver those toppings with every bite.

3. Parmesan and scallions: Cheese is a classic accompaniment with pasta, but why not add a pungent kick as well? Scallions add green color and a deep onion-y flavor to pasta dishes; mixed up with melted Parmesan, they transform an ordinary weeknight into a brief trip to Italy. For easy grating, try using a microplane.

4. Mustard and bread crumbs: Mustard with pasta? Think outside that jar of sauce and bake a casserole with wide, flat noodles, ricotta, and a crispy bread crumb layer on top. Mix those bread crumbs with mustard for heat and panache. Try one of these more unusual mustards instead of the usual yellow brand.

5. Roasted red peppers and olive oil: Smoky and sweet, roasted red peppers make spaghetti exciting. Coat noodles with a fruity, resinous olive oil, grate some pecorino, and let the kids dig in. For a little extra protein, add a link or two of Italian sausage.

These easy pasta flavor combinations will make family dinner time a noteworthy event. What are your favorite pasta toppings?