Monday, February 12, 2007

Caramelized Onions

We were inspired this weekend by a conversation with our Mother, who had made caramelized onions and gussied up the whole thing to dress some pasta. Let it be known that, while Martini Central is awash with cocktails, ales, and assorted wines, the Ancestral Home was - for all practical purposes - a teetotaler's haven. Which is to say: do not blame the upbringing or the environment for your host's intoxicated state.

Back to the onions.

A dish of simplicity that only requires patience. But the wait - what there is - is worth it. It is a simple, cheap thing to make, leftovers keep well in the fridge, and it can give a magic touch to most dishes. If one is lucky, everything can be found in a moderately well-stocked pantry - although the onions may require a special stop by the supermarket. After the onions are sliced up, pop them in a pan over medium-high heat and wait. There will be some fussing with this over the course of an hour, but most of the time can be spent doing other things - as long as they don't take you too far from the kitchen, or distract you to the point of forgetting you have something cooking.

For this project, in consideration of the time from start to finish (about an hour) we suggest something of a lower octane, like a nice red wine or a cold beer.

There are a couple of ingredients that aren't necessary for caramelized onions, but we like them and so included them in the recipe: dried thyme and cognac. If one or either are missing from your pantry, fuss not. A dusting of cayenne pepper finds itself over most savory dishes in the test kitchens of Martini Central. We do not consider this an optional ingredient because it adds an element of interest that ought not to be passed by. For the this dish, please, a conservative hand should be used.

We used three onions for our recipe - but this can be adjusted as you see fit. The raw onions that filled the pan made about one cup when cooked down.

How did our Sainted Mother serve this? With pasta: she thinned out the onions with some of the pasta water, added some crumbled feta cheese, toasted walnuts, and a little chopped flat-leaf parsley.

And, it should go without saying: the wine should come out only after the onions have been sliced.

Caramelized Onions

3 yellow onions
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh-cracked pepper
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 ounce cognac
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

- Slice the onions in half, and slice the halves crosswise into pieces about 1/4-inch thick.
- Heat olive oil in a 14-16 inch nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat, add the sliced onions.

One may have to mound the onions up to fit them all in: do not fret, they will cook down. They can't be moved much, at this point, without getting onions all over the stove. Pour that glass of wine. If the anxiety of burning the onions is getting too great, turn down the heat a little.

- Season the onions with salt, pepper, sugar, and thyme. Toss, occasionally to help them cook evenly. Once the onions begin to decrease in volume by half, turn down the heat to medium-low.
- When onions start to get a caramel brown and are completely soft, add the cognac and cayenne pepper. Cook for 5-10 more minutes, or until one can't smell the alcohol on the onions' breath.