23 September 2011

Caramelized onion three ways

Did we, as a culture, first learn about those browned, impossibly sweet slithery ropes of onion in French onion soup, that greasy favorite from the '60s?  Well, a trained cook probably knows the answer to that, but I don’t really care.  I love caramelized onions and think they make many things better--nay, totally different--dishes.  And don’t forget, kiddies--onions are a vegetable.  And they go well with red wine…

Caramelized Onions: basic recipe

4 yellow onions
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or dry red wine
Salt to taste

To prepare each onion: chop off both ends and peel away the paper and tough outer layer of skin (the yellow part).  Cut the onion in half, then pay each, flat side down, on the cutting board.  Thinly slice across the width of each half of onion and break apart the individual half-rings that result.  You should have a big pile of half-rings of onion.

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  When the oil shimmers, begin adding batches of onion and stir constantly so that they soften and shrink.  Continue adding onions to the pan when there’s room until they’re all in there.  Sprinkle with a dash of salt if you like, stir, cover, and reduceto medium-low heat.

Visit your onions occasionally and give them a stir--you want them to stay soft and oily.  If they are getting crunchy, lower the heat more.  You can cook the onions in this way for about 20 minutes.  In the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the vinegar or red wine and stir until it reduces.

Now, here’s what you can do…

Caramelized Onion, Walnut, and Gorgonzola Pizza

Yields 8 slices

1 freshly rolled pizza crust (here's my recipe)
1 batch caramelized onion (see recipe, above)
2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
½ cup walnut pieces
3 cups fresh spinach
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
½ cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese

Prebake crust at 400°F for 10 minutes or until it starts to feel crisp on the bottom.

Remove crust, lower oven temperature to 350°F, and build your pizza: sprinkle the garlic on the crust first, then spread around the caramelized onion.  Follow with spinach, walnuts, mozzarella, and gorgonzola.  Bake for 35-40 minutes or until spinach is dried and cheese gets a little bit golden.

Brie mini-tarts

Makes 12

1 sheet puff pastry
6 ounces brie cheese
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 large onion, cut into thin half-rings
1 tablespoon raisins or dried cranberries
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon brown sugar

Thaw puff pastry at room temperature about 30 minutes.  While you’re at it, leave out the brie so that it’s easier to work with, too.

In a medium skillet or medium heat, pour in the olive oil.  When it shimmers, add the onion, raisins, and brown sugar.  Stir well and sauté until onion and raisins are soft and the brown sugar is dissolved, about 8 minutes.  Add the vinegar and cook on medium high, stirring occasionally, until it reduces, about 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Lay thawed puff pastry onto a lightly floured surface and cut into 12 (3-inch) squares.  Place in a mini-muffin tin.  Place a 1-inch cube of brie into each pastry cup and them top with about 2 teaspoons of the onion mixture.  Bake about 15 minutes or until pastry is light golden brown.

Pasta with Caramelized Onion and Broccoli

Serves  6

1 box linguine
1 batch caramelized onion
1 large head broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces (use the stem too)
1 tablespoons capers
Salt and crushed red pepper flakes to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Add linguine and cook according to package directions, but about 5 minutes before it’s done, add the broccoli.  Drain and return to pan.  Stir in caramelized onions, capers, salt and red pepper and serve with crusty bread and a nice Sangiovese.