Spotlight: The Johnny Onion Ride inspires a fashionable pique-nique
Onion Ride photos by kc kratt
In France, an onion can be as important as a bottle of fine wine—to the government at least, which has given an AOC (Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée) sanction to the pink oignons de Roscoff, just as they would a good wine. These onions, noted for their mild, perfumy character and blush-tinged flesh, are not only the quintessential beginning to a perfect soupe à l’oignon, they are also the impetus for Buffalo’s Johnny Onion Ride.
In the early 1800s, a Frenchman by the name of Henri Ollivier began biking his farm’s onions to Britain, crossing the English Channel via small sailing ships and steamboats. Once he’d landed, he’d stick around for a bit and sell his onions door-to-door. The roads to Paris were far harder to travel on a bike, and so heading just across the way to England made good business sense. In time, the Brits grew to love the Roscoff onion so much that each year after harvest, nearly 2,000 of Breton’s agricultural workers would tie braids of the rosy orbs to the handlebars of their bicycles and leave for England. The Onion Johnnies, as the British housewives called them, continue this tradition today, though their numbers have dwindled to just a dozen.
The Buffalo Lazy Randonneur Club (BLRC), founded by brothers Greg and Jack Courtney, is a social bicycling club in which what you wear is sometimes as relevant as your journey. Spring brings the group’s Tweed Ride, the first day of summer earns a snappy seersucker-themed adventure, a winter trip takes place on solstice, and the Johnny Onion Ride ushers in the fall season with a nod at classic French attire. BLRC, which has no dues or regulations, is an exercise in civility and a celebration of bicycling, nature, community, fashion, and, in the case of the Johnny Onion ride, food.
Each year, in late September or early October, BLRC members tie onions to their bicycles, wedge baguettes into their baskets, and set off for a scenic ride through Buffalo’s bike paths, ending at Delaware Park’s Rose Garden near Hoyt Lake. Once there, picnic blankets are spread and the peeling and slicing of onions begins. Riders share hors d’oeuvres and beverages while the communal pot of onion soup simmers over hot coals.
While you may not be able to join the Randonneurs on their fantastic French-themed adventure, there’s no reason why you cannot create your own. I’ve already shared my favorite recipe for soupe à l’oignon with readers, so I’ve asked area chefs to share their prized fall pique-nique dishes. With inspired attire and a destination in mind, I encourage you to get out, relish the crisp October weather, soak up the stunning colors of fall, and enjoy a leisurely meal en plein air.
The following dishes travel with minimal effort, though, depending on the length of your journey, a few ice packs may be required.
Chocolate Mousse with Candied Pistachios
Chef Luci Levere – Elm Street Bakery
4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
200 grams good quality chocolate, finely chopped
3 tablespoons water
pinch of salt
Combine the chocolate and water in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Be sure the water doesn’t touch the underside of the bowl. Heat until the chocolate is almost entirely melted, stirring occasionally. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir until the chocolate is smooth.
In a separate bowl, combine the egg whites and salt. Whisk until stiff peaks form. Stir half of the egg whites into the chocolate. Gently fold in the remaining egg whites, being sure to preserve as much of their texture as possible.
Divide the mousse between 8-ounce mason jars. Cover with lids and chill 3-4 hours. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream and/or candied pistachios (recipe below).
½ cup shelled, roasted, and salted pistachios
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon hot water
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread pistachios on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking liner or parchment paper. In a small bowl combine the brown sugar and hot water. Whisk until sugar has dissolved. Pour the mixture over the pistachios and toss to coat. Bake until golden and toasted, 8-10 minutes. Once cool, crumble the pistachios for serving.
Chèvre, Ham and Fines Herbes Palmier
Chef Jennifer Boye – Mansion on Delaware Avenue
¾ cup chèvre, room temperature
4 tablespoons fines herbes*, finely chopped
¼ pound ham, very thinly sliced
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
Cracked black pepper, to taste
In a small bowl, combine chèvre, a pinch of black pepper, and herbs. Place puff pastry on a clean work area. Spread a very thin and even layer of the herbed cheese over the puff pastry sheet. Place the thinly sliced ham over cheese mixture, making sure all surfaces are covered. Trim edges of ham, if necessary, to avoid any overhang. Cut pastry sheet in half horizontally, resulting in two long strips.
With each strip, roll the two long edges to meet in the center. Then fold at the center, like a book. This will result in a long, thin bar of dough. Repeat with the other half and refrigerate both bars for 30 minutes.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Slice each bar into ½-inch sections (each piece should look like a small heart) and place them about 1 inch apart on parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake until golden brown, approximately 12–18 minutes. Palmiers can be served warm or at room temperature.
*Fines herbes is a classic French herb mixture: in this case, it would be made from 1 tablespoon each chopped chervil, parsley, chive, and tarragon)
Quiche with Bacon, Leeks, and Roquefort
Chef Joe George – Twentieth Century Club
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 leeks, sliced (white parts only), rinsed twice
1 par-baked quiche shell
4 ounces cooked bacon, diced
4 ounces Roquefort cheese, crumbled
1 cup cream or half-and-half
7 large eggs
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. When the butter begins to bubble, add the leeks and cook for about 5 minutes, until they are wilted but not browned. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Layer the leeks, cooked bacon, and Roquefort into the par-baked quiche shell. Mix the cream, eggs, and salt together in a bowl and pour it into pie shell, tipping the shell to distribute it evenly (a recipe for pie dough is below). Bake the quiche for 30-40 minutes, or until the eggs are cooked and set. If it begins to brown too quickly, cover the quiche with foil as it bakes.
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup cold water
4 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
Combine the flour, salt, sugar, and butter in a food processor and pulse for about 15–20 seconds, or until it resembles coarse cornmeal. With the motor running, add the water. Remove the dough from the machine and shape into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate 1 hour.
To par-bake a quiche shell: on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out slightly larger than your quiche pan. Lightly oil the pan and gently transfer the dough to the pan, pressing it to the edges. If the dough breaks, simply piece it together. Trim any excess dough that may be hanging over the edge. Then line the dough with foil and fill the quiche with uncooked beans (this is to keep the edges of the dough from falling and the center from puffing as it bakes). Refrigerate the dough with the beans for at least an hour.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake the quiche shell (still lined with foil and filled with beans) for about 15 minutes, or until the edges of the quiche just begin to brown. Remove foil and beans and bake another 5 minutes to cook the center.
Asparagus and New Potatoes Poached in Saffron Court-Bouillon with Roasted Garlic Aioli
4 medium red-skinned potatoes, quartered or thickly sliced
1 bunch asparagus, ends removed and tied into 4 bundles
4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 cup white wine
½ cup white wine vinegar
½ cup water
1 pinch saffron threads
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
In a large skillet, combine all but the potatoes and asparagus. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Add the potatoes, cover the pan, and simmer for about ten minutes. Add the bundles of asparagus, re-cover the pan, and simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove the potatoes from the court-bouillon and transfer to a serving platter. The vegetables can be served hot, at room temperature, or chilled. The recipe for the accompanying aioli is below.
4 cloves garlic
½ cup olive oil
1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup lemon
Pinch of kosher salt
Place the garlic and the olive oil in a small skillet. Heat the skillet over medium heat until the garlic begins to simmer in the oil. Reduce the heat to low and “roast” the garlic for about ten minutes—turning it as necessary—until thoroughly cooked and golden. Transfer the pan to a refrigerator allowing the garlic to cool in the oil. When the oil is completely cooled, move it and the garlic—along with the mayonnaise, lemon, and salt—to a blender, and process until thick and very smooth. Refrigerate until needed.
Pan-Roasted Chicken Breast with Herbes de Provence and Orange and Caper Vinaigrette
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 boneless skin-on chicken breast, 6 ounces each
In a bowl large enough to hold the chicken breasts, combine three tablespoons of olive oil (reserving the other three tablespoons), herbes de Provence, kosher salt, cracked black pepper, and minced garlic. Whisk these ingredients together and then add the chicken breasts, coating them evenly. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
Preheat and oven to 350 degrees. On a stovetop, heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet with an ovenproof handle over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the chicken breasts skin-side down. Cook the breasts for about five minutes, or until the skin becomes golden brown. Turn the breasts over and place the pan in the preheated oven. Roast the breasts for about 15 minutes, or until an internal temperature of 160 degrees is attained. Remove the chicken from the skillet and serve warm or chilled.
-Orange and Caper Vinaigrette
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon orange zest
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
Combine all of the ingredients except the capers in a small bowl. Whisk to combine. Add the capers and serve.
Christa Glennie Seychew is Spree’s senior editor.