Rossa di Milano Onions
Inventory, lb : 0
Rossa di Milano onions are a medium to large varietal, averaging 10 to 12 centimeters in diameter, and can vary in shape from round, oval, to square with a distinct, flattened top and broad, angular shoulders, tapering to a narrower, flat base. The onions also bear a thin neck that can be quickly dried, and some bulbs are sold with a dried clump of ivory-brown roots still attached. The bulb is encased in a delicate, papery, and brittle purple-brown covering, easily flaking off with pressure. As the outer covers are removed, the bulb is comprised of tight, fleshy layers that appear in concentric rings. In some Rossa di Milano onions, these rings can emerge in a heart-like shape. The flesh has a dark purple-red to pink hue on the surface, lightening to solid white in the center of the onion, and this coloring is relatively uniform in every Rossa di Milano onion. The flesh is also crisp, succulent, and firm with a crunchy consistency. When sliced, Rossa di Milano onions emit a potent aroma and are edible raw or cooked. The onions have a refined, sweet, and pungent flavor that is robust is not lost when heated.
Rossa di Milano onions are harvested in the fall, and when properly stored, can last through the spring.
Rossa di Milano onions, botanically classified as Allium cepa, are a rare Italian heirloom variety belonging to the Amaryllidaceae family. This intermediate to long day, open-pollinated onion requires 12 to 16 hours of daily sunlight to grow and matures in approximately 110 days. The name Rossa di Milano translates from Italian to mean the “Red Onion of Milan,” but many growers refer to it as the “Rose of Milan,” an affectionate nickname given to show favor towards the heritage variety. The blushed onions are often found in markets braided together to showcase their unusual shape and coloring and are highly prized among growers for their flavor, appearance, and extended storage capabilities. Once dried, Rossa di Milano onions can be kept in storage for up to six months and have been bred over time to be resistant to several diseases and pests, including thrips. While these growth characteristics have established the variety as a favorable onion among growers, Rossa di Milano onions are mostly prized for their sweet and rich, pungent flavor. Rossa di Milano onions can be consumed fresh or cooked, and their flavor creates a savory-sweet, complex foundation for culinary dishes.
Rossa di Milano onions are an excellent source of vitamin C to strengthen the immune system while reducing inflammation and fiber to regulate the digestive tract. The onions also provide B vitamins to increase metabolism, potassium to balance fluid levels within the body, calcium to protect bones and teeth, and other nutrients, including manganese, magnesium, and vitamin K. In addition to vitamins and minerals, Rossa di Milano onions contain flavonoids that contribute antioxidant-like properties to guard the cells in the body against external environmental damage.
Rossa di Milano onions have a sweet but pungent flavor well suited for fresh and cooked preparations. The onions are known for their uniform coloring, often showcased when diced raw into salads, dips, and ceviche. The onion’s robust taste is also frequently used to flavor salsa and guacamole, or it can be pureed into salad dressings, marinades, and oils. Try adding raw or grilled onion rings onto burgers and sandwiches for a bright flavoring. In addition to fresh preparations, Rossa di Milano onions develop a savory, complex flavoring when cooked, incorporated as a foundational element in soups, stews, and curries. The onions can also be battered and fried, sauteed into pasta, chopped and cooked into hash browns, caramelized and mixed with roasted vegetables, baked into casseroles, or grilled with meat. Rossa di Milano onions can be used in any recipe calling for onions. They can also be pickled to develop a tangy, sour element, popularly added to salads and sandwiches. In Italy, red onions are caramelized with butter and brown sugar to create a delicate, sweet, and savory appetizer. Onions are also finely chopped into fresh salads, cooked into risotto, or braised in savory sauces with meat as a main dish. Rossa di Milano onions pair well with meats such as pork, poultry, and fish, tomatoes, avocado, cucumbers, potatoes, corn, mushrooms, fruits such as oranges, limes, lemons, and apples, and herbs including thyme, oregano, basil, and parsley. Whole, uncut Rossa di Milano onions will keep 1 to 6 months when stored in a cool, dry, and dark place. Chopped onions will keep 7 to 10 days when stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
In the early 20th century, a new strain of Rossa di Milano onions was developed by Dr. John Navazio in Applegate Valley of Oregon. Dr. Navazio studied and bred the onions with a team of experts for several years and tested the variety’s disease resistance and storage capacity for ten generations of plantings. One of the interesting elements interwoven into the story of this onion strain is Dr. Navazio’s first encounter with the heirloom onion. Dr. Navazio initially tried growing the Italian heirloom strain in his housing gardens during his Ph.D. program in Wisconsin in the late 20th century. After growing the variety and seeing its potential, Dr. Navazio shared the onion with his friend Steve Peters at Seeds of Change and encouraged him to begin offering the variety. Soon after, Peters helped establish a program to create a new strain of Rossa di Milano onions with improved resistance to disease, flavor, appearance, and storage capabilities. Dr. Navazio joined the study in 2014 and worked with experts for several years to create an onion they were satisfied to offer to growers. The new strain of Rossa di Milano onions matures up to ten days earlier than the heirloom strain, is cold tolerant, and resistant to thrips, a common onion pest. The variety was also tested for flavor and appearance, and the modern strain maintains the Rossa di Milano onion’s reputation as a flavorful and robust cooking onion.
Rossa di Milano onions are native to Italy and were first cultivated in the northern region of Lombardy. The onions were often grown and sold in markets throughout Milan, the capital city of Lombardy, earning the variety its “Milano” moniker. Over time, Rossa di Milano onions traveled throughout Europe through migrating families and trade merchants, and the variety was also eventually brought to North America, where the onions were cultivated in home gardens. Throughout the late 20th century, American seed companies began importing favorable varieties from Europe, and the Rossa di Milano onion was selected to be a part of a study in Oregon to create an improved strain. This modern strain was bred under the leadership of Dr. John Navazio and a team of experts and was released in the early 21st century around 2019. Today the heirloom strain of Rossa di Milano onions and the modern strain can be found through seed companies in North America and Europe, and the onions are primarily sold through specialty grocers, distributors, and farmer’s markets once harvested and dried.