10.19.2019

The Sunday Market

Sunday mornings are special to me.

While others may dream of sleeping in, or of family outings to the church of their choice, you can (almost!) always find me in Rillito Park at the Heirloom Farmers Market.

I begin my weekly visits with the intention of perusing the full market before buying. But then I see that Eunice and Larry (Larry’s Veggies) have my favorite Minnesota Midget melons, or Laura (Laura’s Locals) has beautiful pink oyster mushrooms, or Alethea and her daughter, Caitlyn (Fiore di Capra), have fresh goat ricotta... I stop and buy immediately.

After all, if I waited for a full tour of the market, all those goodies could be gone by the time I get back to their respective stalls.

Today’s recipe is an inspiration from a recent Sunday morning meander at the market. Ian (White Cane Sockeye Salmon) had beautiful King Salmon, and Eunice and Larry had beautiful clumps of I’itoi onions.

Once thought to be a native to the American Southwest, I’itoi (pronounced ee-EE-toy) onions are actually an introduced species. Research has shown they were brought to this region by 17th-century Jesuit missionaries. Though this, along with other Old-World crops, was eventually abandoned by Euro-Americans, its cultivation persisted among the tribes to whom they were introduced, making the Amerindians inadvertent preservers of these heirloom foods. These heirloom Old-World crops, combined with distinctive native food plants such as the chiltepin in the recipe below, play an important role in the designation of Tucson as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. The name for the variety of onions, I’itoi, refers to Elder Brother, the creation deity of Tohono O’odham narrative. You might know him as the Man in the Maze.

The onions themselves are small and clumping, and are best propagated via bulb divisions. Last time I wrote of them, I was sure there would be seed packets available. Sadly, no. But the bulb divisions are available (seasonally) from Native Seeds SEARCH.

One of the greatest pleasures in life, and certainly among its privileges, is to know the people who grow and raise your food. That connection to the earth is elemental, and I am grateful for my friends — the farmers, ranchers, and artisans — at the market who work so hard to bring their beautiful products to us each week.

~ David

Roasted King Salmon with I’itoi Onion Compote

4 6-ounce salmon fillets, skin removed
8-10 clumps I’itoi onions
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 crushed chiltepin or a pinch red pepper flakes
large pinch salt
2 lemons, sliced paper thin


Brush the salmon fillets with a little of the olive oil. Season well with salt and pepper and set aside. Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C.

Divide the clumps of onions into separate cloves or bulbs; you should have about 40 separate bulbs, but if you end up with more that is great! Trim and peel them, then rinse them well, as the bulbs can be very sandy. If they come with their greens, reserve them for another use. *

Place the remaining olive oil in a small, heavy saucepan and add the whole I’itoi onion bulbs, thyme sprigs, tomato paste, sugar, red pepper flakes, and salt. Cook over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, at which point the onions should be soft and somewhat caramelized. Discard thyme sprigs and set compote aside; keep warm.

Arrange lemon slices on an oiled cookie sheet to make a bed for the fish. Place the fillets on the lemon slices and roast in the oven for 8-12 minutes, depending on thickness and your preference for how well done you like your fish.

Using a long spatula, transfer each fillet, with some of the lemon slices, to heated dinner plates. Divide the I’itoi onion compote among fish, drizzle any remaining sauce over it, and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

* The greens of the I’itoi onions are very flavorful and should not be discarded. Use them as you would scallions. They are wonderful sautéed as a side dish.


35 comments:

  1. David , this looks so good. Are the I’ itoi onions sweet once you sauté them? I don’t think I have ever seen these kind of onions at our markets.

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    1. Hello, Gerlinde - yes, the I’itoi onions are very sweet - much like shallots. They are delicious and are coming back fresh next week! They grill beautifully!

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  2. I'm so fascinated by those I’itoi. They look beautifully caramelised and sweet, and I wish I could get them here. I'm a little envious!

    I'm yet to delve into the local markets we have here in the Blue Mountains. Each week one of the villages plays host, but it's more of a farmers' and craft market, rather than just food. I'll visit them one day!

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    1. John - I tried so hard to find you seeds to send but to no avail. Sorry! You will just have to come visit!

      I have to look up your new home area - not familiar with the Blue Mountains. Are you having fun?

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  3. David - You have given me major homework today ! How wonderful you live in a UNESCO City of Gastronomy ! Until I read your post I did not know such existed . . . and what a fascinating group of places around the world- some quite unexpected! Methinks this Sunday morning I shall be travelling around it finding out more . . . thank you ! A rather understandable blank there for Down Under . . . Love your description of a market Sunday for you and would so like to walk alongside. Naturally have not heard of I'itoi onions . . . like the recipe and shall prepare with the closest alliums I can find . . .

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Oh, I wish you hadn’t deleted your second response - it was so lovely! We are very lucky here and love being part of a city that has a vibrant food scene. Little ol’ Tucson... who knew? Thanks, Eha, as ever, for your warm and thoughtful words. Hugs, d

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    3. Savid - When I get enthusiastic the words flow for too long :) ! Was embarrassed when I realized !!

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    4. Never! I love your enthusiasm - and am so grateful for your thoughtful comments!

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  4. I love caramelized onions and these l'itoi onions are petite and pretty. If I ever come across these, I'm glad you mention not to discard the tops in the recipe! Your market sounds like a perfect place to spend Sunday morning, wish we had a place like that around here. This is a beautiful dish, David.

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    1. i Do love my market friends so... they are wonderful, Marcelle! I wish you had a fun market there, too. Maybe you need to visit for a weekend... Evan wouldn’t mind taking the kids on a Dad outing while came here to enjoy the market. :)

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  5. oh yum how gorgeous does your salmon dish look! and those onions - how cute are they. yes farmers' markets are the bomb!:-) cheers sherry

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    1. I don’t know what I would do without the market, Sherry - it is truly my social event of the week. (Not to mention a great source of fantastic food!)

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  6. David, it sounds like we spend our Sunday mornings the same way! Definitely something worth getting out of bed for. But sadly I don't live in a UNESCO City of Gastronomy... I had no idea that Tucson had received that honor. How lucky you are!

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    1. We are pretty lucky, Frank - there is a deep and rich history of native and introduced cuisine here. Quite fun!

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  7. David, it's always so great to know the cultural background of things you cook with- makes the food taste even better. These I'itoi onions look like they would taste rather sweet!

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    1. I think you are right, Fran! And, yes, the I’itoi onions are super sweet!

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  8. I share your appreciation of the Sunday Farmers Market, the growers, the farmers -- though a bit further west. ;-o) I will be keeping an eye out for these onions. At first glance I thought there were roasted garlic cloves on the salmon . . . and then I remembered it couldn't be. I'm so happy you can eat all sorts of onions. This variety sounds wonderful and the color of the raw onion is magnificent. Love the presentation of the salmon on the lemon slices, and I bet that added juice it the icing on the cake. ~Valentina

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    1. Valentina - it would be wonderful if these Native American onions made it to LA - what a treat for everyone they would be! I am glad I can have all the other members of the allium family, too - even garlic chives! Thanks fro noticing the lemon bed - yes - it added a really nice brightness to the dish, and I even ate most of the slices!

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  9. I’itoi onions? I've not had them. Or at least I don't remember having them. Cool! And this is such a wonderful dish -- really good stuff. Love local ingredients. One of the best new restaurants I've been to in a long time is Bulrush in St. Louis. They do a lot of foraging and sourcing of ingredients in the Ozarks of Missouri. Although the recipes and cooking techniques they use are very modern, they draw a lot of inspiration from old family recipes that they've sourced through community cookbooks, letters in historical collections, and the like. Neat restaurant -- you'd like it.

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    1. The restaurant sound wonderful, John. I have added it to my travel list - never know when I will make it to St. Louis again. (I think it is worth going to visit the City Museum alone!)

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  10. David, I love farmers' markets and like you, I love to go and get inspired. I also agree with your shopping strategy to buy it when you see it.
    As with others, I'm also unfamiliar with the I’itoi onion, but it sounds delicious. I must research with my veggie market and see if we have a Spanish relative available here. Thanks for sharing a lovely recipe.

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    1. Maybe I will start a world-wide run on I'itoi onions! Apparently, Eunice and Larry got quite a few requests on Sunday!

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  11. Yet another brilliant dish, David!
    I will pick up salmon for tonight and make your masterpiece. Thanks for sharing your stories and beautiful recipes. xx

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    1. Thanks, Colette! It is always fun to share with you! xo

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  12. I love how you always find a way to exalt some products such as these delicate tiny shallots :) What a mouthwatering dish :)

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    1. Thanks, Romain - They are the sweetest little onions, and I am lucky we have them here!

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  13. I love farmer's markets too David! It sounds like you might substitute shallots for the I’itoi onions, which I've never seen here?

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    1. I'itoi onions are definitely a regional specialty, and small shallots are a perfect substitute!

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  14. Goodness, David! At first glance I thought those were CLOVES OF GARLIC and almost had a heart attack! Ha ha! Now I understand, and would love to sample these special onions. Your market sounds wonderful. I am usually underwhelmed by our LA markets.

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    1. You were not the first one to think they were garlic, Christina! I wish they were available everywhere - they are so good!

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  15. Dear David, of course, I had never heard of l’ itoi onions, thank you for the wonderful explanations as to their origins. Actually they not only look quite pretty but they also sound delicious, certainly like an ingredient that I would love to use in my cooking as well. I can also totally relate to your thoughts about local farmer's markets, the farmers and their locally grown fruits, veggies and herbs. It's always such a joy to be able to shop for regional, lovingly grown and manufactured products.

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    1. Andrea - I do wish i'itoi onions were available in areas outside Tucson - they are very special!

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Thank you for taking the time to leave me a note - I really appreciate hearing from you and welcome any ideas you may have for future posts, too. Happy Cooking!

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