The Subtle Shallot
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 27, 2008.Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
The botanical name for shallots is Allium cepa var. aggregatum
Cooking with Shallots
Shallots are the perfect choice to offer a hint of garlic or onion without the strong taste. Shallots caramelize like onions and are one reason they are sought after by professional chefs and home cooks.  Shallots combine well with dishes using wine. They can be made into a lovely vinaigrette, puréed with mashed potatoes, finely sliced and served raw as an edible garnish or in a salad, and used in any dish where you want a mild onion and garlic hint. Shallots usually cook down and disintegrate into the dish to become almost imperceptible, yet leave their subtle influence in the dish.
Shallots are perhaps the easiest Allium to grow in the home garden. They take up very little space and mature quicker than most alliums although all require a long growing season. Each shallot plant grows 6-10 shallot bulbs and in warmer zones shallots can be planted in fall from sets (late September to early October) or in March in colder zones. Note: optimum zone range is 3a to 10b. An old adage says: “Plant on the shortest day, lift on the longest day.”
Shallots can also be sown from seed captured on the dry seedheads and stored. Start seeds in flats in March, keeping them warm and moist until ready set out. Be sure to harden them off first. You may also plant shallots sold in supermarkets if you cannot find a gardening supplier with available stock. Planting your own saved home-grown shallots is less expensive and more convenient.
Push the bulbs tip end up into soft ground, spacing about 6” apart. and 2-3” deep. I cover mine (zone 6a) with several inches of straw after the ground has frozen. Remove the straw mulch in spring when the ground begins to warm and keep them weed free.
Harvesting and Storing Shallots
When the leaves turn yellow and wilt, lift the clumps and air dry outside in a covered shady area or in a warm (80ºF) well-ventilated room. In 2-3 weeks rub off any dried dirt and trim the dried leaves. Typically I harvest 5 or more pounds of shallots for every pound I plant. Store them in net bags or knot them in clean pantyhose in a cool, frost-free, dry place. Discard any that are soft and mushy. Depending on the variety, they will store for a considerable length of time.
Atlantic can be sown early and produces heavy yields of moderate to large bulbs which are crisp, tasty, and stores well.
Creation is a seed-grown variety which is delicious, highly resistant to bolting (flowers early), and stores well.
Drittler White Nest is an old variety that produces tasty bulbs of variable sizes.
Giant Yellow Improved has yellow brown skins and are consistently large and high-yielding.
Golden Gourmet is a mild-tasting shallot used in casseroles and salads. It is reliable and high-yielding, stores well, and produces good edible shoots.
Grise de Bagnolet is a gray shallot that is not so widely available as the brown or red ones, but are prepared in the same way. It is highly regarded by the French and used in a variety of ways, lifting the ordinary to new heights.
Hative de Niort is an extremely attractive variety with elongated pear-shaped bulbs with dark brown skins and white flesh.
Pikant is prolific and resistant to bolting. Its skin is dark reddish-brown and the flesh is strong and the texture firm.
Red Potato Onion is extremely hardy, having bronze-red skin and pink flesh. It is also a good keeper.
Sante is a large and round with brown skin and pinkish-white, very flavorful flesh. The yields are high and it stores well, but it does have a tendency to bolt and should be planted from mid to late spring when conditions improve.
Topper is a mild-tasting, vigorous, golden-yellow variety that is planted from late winter on. It stores well. 
Other varieties include Ambition, Aristocratic, Dutch Yellow, Dutch Red, German Grey, German Red and French Red. French Red Shallot is the most common dry shallot grown. Other yellow or white varieties include Griselle, Chicken Leg Shallot, and Dutch Yellow, but only the red shallot is important in the commercial market.
Thanks to Xenomorf for photo from Plantfiles
Some Sources for Buying Shallot Sets:
Johnny’s Selected Seeds:
Kitchen Garden Seeds:
Thompson & Morgan
Big John’s Garden:
Copyright, 2004, Barefoot in Paris (Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa), All Rights Reserved
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 pounds fresh shallots, peeled, with roots intact
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons good red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Preheat the oven to 400º F.
Melt the butter in a 12-inch ovenproof sauté pan, add the shallots and sugar, and toss to coat. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the shallots start to brown. Add the vinegar, salt, and pepper and toss well.
Place the sauté pan in the oven and roast for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the shallots, until they are tender. Season, to taste, sprinkle with parsley, and serve hot.