Caramelized onions are one of my favorite ingredients to have on hand for adding sweet and savory depth to a variety of dishes, especially soups, pizzas, sandwiches and pastas. Make a batch to keep in the fridge (for up to a week) and use as needed. Or if you are really thinking ahead, freeze the caramelized onions in small portions for up to 2 or 3 months. (They may last longer than 3 months but if something is in the freezer that long, it is usually lost and it will never get used.)
I cook my onions similar to the method used in Marcella Hazen’s recipe for Smothered Onion Sauce, a favorite recipe from my pasta making days. Besides the taste, the best part about this way of caramelizing onions is you basically ignore the first hour of cooking, leaving time to answer emails, read a few chapters of the book you’re trying to finish or doing whatever else you need an hour for.
3 large yellow onions (approx. 2 lbs.)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch of salt
Halve the onions and slice or sliver into the thickness you want. Put the olive oil in a large cast iron pan or your favorite sauté pan. Turn the heat on to the lowest setting. Add the onions and the salt. There is no need to toss with the oil. Cover the pan and let the onions cook close to an hour. The onions will sweat, releasing their moisture.
Uncover the pan. (The onions will still be lighter colored at this point.) Turn the heat to medium high and let the onions cook until golden and the liquid released from the onions evaporates. Turn over the onions as needed. This can take from 10 to 30 minutes depending on your pan and stove heat. Taste for sweetness. Season with salt and pepper.
Also easy to make and store in the fridge, pickled onions add a piquancy to curries, grilled veggies, fish and salads. A garnish of pickled red onions will liven up a dish’s color, too.
Because The Heart of the Plate has been occupying my cookbook rack these last few months, I offer an adapted version of Mollie Katzen’s recipe.
Pickled Red Onions
1 large red onion, approximately 3/4 lb., thinly sliced
3 tablespoons vinegar (cider, red or white wine, balsamic, or brown rice)
1 to 2 teaspoons agave nectar, light-colored honey, brown rice syrup or sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Bring a liter-sized pot of water to boil.
Place the sliced onion in a colander in the sink. Pour the boiling water over the onion slices. Drain. (This is a helpful trick employed to soften the bite of raw onion.)
In a large bowl, combine the vinegar, sweetener and salt. Whisk until blended. Add the onion and stir to coat all of the slices. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to a day, stirring occasionally so that all the slices have a chance to marinate in the vinegar. Transfer the onion and marinade to a large jar with a lid. Store in the refrigerator.
Caramelized onions and pickled onions are great hostess gifts.