The golden globes of autumn
For me, there’s one color that represents autumn as clearly as a date on the calendar. It’s a soft, fuzzy gold of onions.
The sweet, tempered varieties of summer are dwindling, but the heartier, more robust onions that replace them will take us through winter. Nature designed them to be the keepers that tide us over until the fresh, sweet onions of spring come again.
All-purpose yellow globe: This onion is the workhorse in the kitchen, the one called upon most frequently to perform a wide range of tasks. Lower in water content than its spring and summer counterparts, the yellow globe is good for storage and is, therefore, more likely found throughout the year than any other in the onion family. These onions have a strong flavor, which makes them the right candidate for long-term cooking, such as in stews and soups.
Spanish Sweet onions: This large, yellow, storage onion is known for its large, spherical shape and mild sweet flavor. Its higher water content makes it a little less hot and slightly more crisp than the yellow storage onion. In the Pacific Northwest, these onions are usually referred to as Spanish Sweets, but they are not to be confused with the Walla Walla Sweet, which is strictly a spring-into-summer onion. The Spanish Sweet onion will keep into March, if treated well.
Red onion: Although most people think of “Bermuda” onion as the red onion, that particular variety died out in 1985. The red onion is similar in character to the Spanish onion — slightly sweet, with a crisp character. Although the red onion is a vibrant addition to uncooked dishes, its red pigment is unstable under heat and nonacid conditions, which means that the color is lost during cooking (or turns a bluish-greenish color), unless a bit of vinegar, wine or lemon juice is added.
Cippoline: Pronounced “chi-po-li-nee,” this zesty, little, white onion gained popularity as an Italian import, but is becoming increasingly more available in the states. You can recognize it by its small, squat dimension.
White storage onions: Although hot and strong in flavor, these are milder than the yellow storage onion, with a slightly cleaner, crisper character.
Easy Pickled Onion Garnish
Makes about ¾ cup
½ cup apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1½ teaspoons salt
1 red onion, thinly sliced
In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar and salt. Bring just to a boil, then remove from heat and let sit until slightly cool to the touch, but still very warm.
Meanwhile place the onion slices in a jar. Pour the warm vinegar mixture over the onions. Let sit at room temperature for at least 3 hours before using. Cover and store in refrigerator. You can easily make larger batches, as desired.
Makes 3 to 4 cups of caramelized onions
This is a process that requires patience on your part. It can’t be rushed. Keep the temperature medium-low to low so the sugars in the onions have a chance to caramelize rather than burn. Don’t feel that this means you need to hover by the stove. Indeed, once the onions have softened and begun to brown, just check on them every 10 minutes and give them a gentle stir with the flat side of a spatula to scrape up all the cooked-on bits of onion that are building on the bottom of the pot. This is where a ton of flavor is lurking, and it's important to incorporate it back into the onions during the process.
6 tablespoons butter
About 4 pounds (about 6 medium) yellow onions, peeled, quartered root to tip, then sliced very thin (1/8-inch wide.)
Salt and ground white pepper to taste
Place the butter and onions in a large, wide, deep, heavy-bottomed pot, over medium heat. As the butter melts, toss the onions to coat them with the butter. Keep tossing them every few minutes until they are wilted and well coated with the butter. Reduce the heat to medium-low and keep cooking, tossing every now and then to keep them evenly heated, until soft and very brown.
As the onions take on more color, turn the temperature down to low. The process will take a very long time if you’re doing it right, and varies, depending on the onions you are using (onions have varying degrees of moisture and sugar content, which affects the caramelization). Some will caramelize in only 90 minutes, others will take up to 2 hours. What you are looking for is a very deep mahogany color.
The onions can be refrigerated for up to 10 days, or frozen for up to 6 months. To prepare for the freezer, arrange patty-sized mounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze until firm; pack into recloseable freezer bags.
French Onion Soup
Makes 6 servings
1 batch of Caramelized Onions (see previous recipe)
1 cup dry white wine (such as a chardonnay, pinot gris or dry-style gewurztraminer)
4 cups beef broth
4 cups chicken broth
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
About 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
heaping ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
Salt to taste
Several thick slices (about ½-inch) of French bread or baguette
8 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded
Place the caramelized onions in a large pot over medium heat. When the onions are soft and warm, add the wine, increase the temperature to medium high and cook, stirring several times, until the wine has reduced by half or even a little beyond half.
Stir in the beef and chicken broth, along with the garlic, Worcestershire sauce, pepper and salt to taste. Bring the soup back to a gentle simmer, then reduce to medium, cover the pot and continue simmering gently for about 20 minutes, so the flavors can develop and meld.
Meanwhile, toast the bread slices on both sides to a golden brown; remove from oven.
When ready to serve, ladle the soup into oven-proof, individual-serving crocks or straight-sided, oven-proof soup bowls. Arrange one or two croutons on top and sprinkle generously with the shredded cheese. Place the bowls on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese has melted and begun to brown; remove from heat and serve (be careful; the bowls will be very hot!).
Makes enough for 4 to 6 servings.
A French classic ... This is how Julia Child used to make it. Soubise is a delicious accompaniment to roast chicken, lamb or pork.
½ cup rice
2 cups boiling salted water
2 pounds yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
4 tablespoons butter
¾ teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons heavy cream
½ cup grated Swiss cheese
Drop the rice into the boiling water and boil for exactly 5 minutes; drain. Peel and slice the onions. Heat the butter in a flame-proof casserole that will be wide and deep enough to accommodate the sliced onions; add the onions and toss to coat evenly. Stir in the rice, salt and pepper. Cover the pan and bake in 300-degree oven for about 90 minutes, until the rice and onions are very soft and tender. Stir occasionally. The mixture will turn a slight golden color. Mix in the cream and cheese, adjusting the seasoning and adding lemon juice to taste. If the mixture seems to thin at this point, return to the oven and continue baking, uncovered, for another 10 to 30 minutes — or longer if necessary.
Chicken & Angel Hair Pasta With Extra Nibbles
This is a wonderful last-minute thing to throw together in a pot. On the way home from work, pick up a roasted chicken from your favorite supermarket, that will form the base of this simple, old-fashioned offering with a twist.
½ yellow onion, peeled, halved and cut into thin strips
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 roasted chicken (buy one at the supermarket, that's perfectly okay!)
6 cups of chicken broth
2 slices of fresh lemon
8 frozen "potsticker" dumplings (available in frozen food section of many major supermarkets)
1 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce (available in Asian section of supermarket)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (more to taste)
Salt to taste
Fresh angel hair pasta
Saute the onion in a large pot over medium heat with the olive oil until the onion is softened and transparent, about 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, skin the chicken and remove all the meat from the bone, leaving it in fairly large bite-sized pieces. Add the chicken to the pot with the onions, along with the chicken broth, lemons, potstickers, chili-garlic sauce and black pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 7 minutes.
About 3 to 5 minutes before serving, add desired amount of angel hair pasta and continue cooking until the pasta is done, about 3 more minutes. Adjust seasonings. Ladle into wide soup bowls and serve.
— Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.