I think it's time to reconsider the humble onion. It's the workhorse of the kitchen and it rarely gets the respect or notoriety it probably deserves. For me, it's taken a long to to really appreciate them, and to be honest, I'm not completely comfortable with them. Let's go back. As a child, there was no vegetable that I loathed more than onions. As far an I was concerned they were poison. I refused to eat anything with onions in them. You can imagine how hard this must have been for my parents, both onion enthusiasts, having to find ways to eliminate onions from recipes. For me, it was mostly a texture thing. Something about the sort of squeaky crunch was unbearable. Yet, I would gladly dig into a bag of Funyuns. I'm not sure how and when I started to open to my heart and mind to onions, but it probably had a lot to do with onion rings. Soon I came to tolerate, accept and then actually savor their flavor and texture. When they are cooked, that as. All these years later, I'm still working on enjoying them raw.
My enjoyment is usually when onions are a part of something else. But lately, I've come to really appreciate onions on their own, unadorned for the most part. Slowly caramelizing them in a pan or roasting are my two favorite methods for cooking them. By doing so their flavor mellows yet becomes richer. When I caramelize, I usually use the yellow variety and do it in a combination of butter and olive oil and then, after they get soft and sweet, add a spoonful of dijon mustard, a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce and some fresh thyme leaves. I've also had great results with a teaspoon full of saffron threads and some crumbled chile de arbol. When I roast, I prefer red onions. In the past I've roasted halved red onions drizzled with honey, balsamic vinegar and (more) thyme, although I thought it sort of masqueraded the flavor of the onion. It also formed a sort of molten syrup that fused onto my baking sheet and I've never been able to get it completely off.
A couple weeks ago Ina Garten made these onions, a simple recipe consisting of wedges of red onions tossed in a very basic olive oil, lemon juice and dijon mustard vinaigrette that was flavored with fresh thyme (onions seems to work really well with thyme) and then roasted in the oven until soft. Practically effortless and completely delicious.
2 red onions
1 yellow onion
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut off the top or the stem end of each onion and carefully slice off the brown, scraggly part of the root end, leaving the root intact. Peel the onion. Stand each onion root end up on a cutting board and cut the onion in wedges through the root, so the root holds the wedges together.
For the dressing, combine the lemon juice, mustard, garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Pour the dressing over the onions and toss well. With a slotted spoon, transfer the onions to a sheet pan, reserving the vinaigrette that remains in the bowl.
Bake the onions for 30 to 45 minutes, until tender and browned. Stir the onions once or twice during cooking. Remove from the oven, and drizzle with the reserved dressing. Sprinkle with parsley, season to taste and serve warm or at room temperature.
This recipe really made me realize how far I'd come. Right after the above photo was taken I just stood at my kitchen counter and ate the onions straight from the bowl with my fingers. The onions have a velvety sweetness, crisp yet soft in texture but not so soft that they turn jammy. Some of the onions around the perimeter of the pan wind up with delicate, blackened edges. Those will be the ones you'll want to sneak to snack on while no one is looking. The thyme vinaigrette somehow doesn't exactly flavor the onions so much as it makes them taste onionier.
They would be a welcome accompaniment for anything from broiled fish, grilled meats or roasted chicken. I can imagine they would be great on something like a sandwich piled high with thick slices of turkey and slathered with mayonnaise and they are a natural to top a juicy burger. I also like them in salads of either lettuce or lentils or couscous. You could also use them as a sort of starting point for another dish. For example, I used some of the left over onions in a rich gravy I made to go along with some Toulouse sausages and white beans mashed with garlic and rosemary. They're kind of great to just have on hand in the refrigerator.
Serves 6 as a side