Sausage and Vidalia Onion Casserole

The story goes that when a Toombs County, Georgia, farmer named Moses Coleman planted some Bermuda onion seeds in the sandy loam around Vidalia in the spring of 1931, the onions he harvested were not just mild in aroma but “sweet as Coca-Cola.” The reason, it was later discovered, was the low sulfur content of the region’s soil. Today, coveted Vidalia onions, widely available only in May and June, are a thirty-million-dollar business in Georgia and protected under a registered trademark (Yumion). Southerners fry, grill, and bake Vidalia onions, and even eat them whole, raw like apples, but I know of no preparation that highlights their exquisite sweetness and unique savor like this succulent casserole intended for an elaborate buffet. (For a less auspicious occasion, just cut the recipe in half and use a 2-quart casserole.) It is essential to serve this casserole piping hot.

Ingredients

  • pounds bulk pork sausage
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter
  • 6 Vidalia onions, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • cups heavy cream
  • Large pinch of ground nutmeg
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ cup dry bread crumbs
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, melted

Method

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a shallow -quart casserole and set aside.

In a large, heavy skillet, break up the sausage meat with a fork and fry over moderate heat till well browned all over. Drain on paper towels and set aside.

In a large, heavy saucepan, melt the solid butter over moderate heat, add the onions and garlic, and cook, stirring, till softened, about 4 minutes. Add the cream, nutmeg, and salt and pepper and cook, stirring, till the onions are tender, about 10 minutes. Scrape the mixture into the prepared casserole and spoon the sausage evenly over the top. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the sausage, drizzle the melted butter over the crumbs, and bake till golden, about 35 minutes. Serve hot.