Cooking with Onions
One of the many books I read during my time there was Michael Pollan’s Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. It bettered the way I thought and went about cooking. I remember lying on the grass in beating, December sun and experiencing an awakening: cooking became less of something that we do to save money or please our mothers, and more of a chain reaction of simple pleasures: the eating, socialising, the nourishing; the process of making science and art together in one steaming pot. Brewing something classical, sometimes adding my own twist, thereby colouring outside the lines. Making beauty every day, sometimes three times a day, with tender things (how sweet is a button mushroom? A turnip?).
"Low heat, rotate often; reveal translucency, unleash umami. 30 minutes, give or take. A dish that used to take 30 minutes to prepare now takes double the time."
There were a bunch of pages where Michael wrote about onions. He talked fervidly about the curious defence mechanism of the onion, the malevolent gas released slice by slice, and the role that onion often plays in cooking all around the world. Onion is a sort of Genesis to the cooking process, isn't it? Step one: begin by cooking onions.
I used to rush the onion cooking process, jacking up the heat to burn on some colour and create an aroma as fast as I could. Cooked changed this. Low heat, rotate often; reveal translucency, unleash umami. 30 minutes, give or take. A dish that used to take 30 minutes to prepare now takes double the time. It’s worth it. Plus, it’s generally easy to find something else to do during those extra thirty minutes: either I prepare other ingredients, wash dishes, or put dishes away. Sometimes I stare out the window, watching cars and pedestrians and buses do their thing. All options are good.
This recipe can take you 20 minutes to make, or 60, depending on how you cook your onions. Substitute the cheese for something milder (such a brie) if your people aren’t up for roquefort’s kick.
two sheets of puff pustry
4 large red onions, sliced about ½ cm thick
Roquefort (or an alternative)
2 medium sized pears, diced finely into half-centimetre cubes
cinnamon (sprinkle generously over the diced pears)
1/4 cup brown or raw sugar
pine nuts or crushed walnuts
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar or dry white wine
How to Caramelise Onions
Throw some oil and butter in a large frypan. Keep the heat on low-medium - you want to avoiding burning the fat/creating smoke.
When the butter has melted add your onion and a pinch of salt. Use a wooden spatula to coat and distribute the onion evenly across the pan. Let your onions alter, mixing often.
Once you notice the onion has softened and is tinged with colour - perhaps about 25-30 minutes in - add balsamic vinegar or white wine and sugar. Mix and distribute these additions evenly.
Keep on heat for another 15 or so minutes, turning the onions every now and then. You're looking for translucency, colour and softness. Once you feel you've found these, take the frypan off the heat and set aside.
Position your oven’s rack to its middle and preheat to 160 degrees celsius. Lightly grease your mini cupcake pan (mine have a diameter of 5cm. Use what you have).
To create the moulds, take your pastry from your fridge, cut your circles and gently press them into the pan.
Then, I like to place my ingredients in these mould in the following order: a teaspoon of onion, a teaspoon of cinnamon-coated pears, crumbs of roquefort and a sprinkle of pine nuts or walnut on top.
Place these in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or a bit longer, with lower heat, if the size of your moulds are markedly bigger. You want pastry that’s a little golden, melted cheese and nuts that haven’t succumbed to burning.
You can serve these immediately or you can cool them down and store them in the fridge for later.