My mother always says that if there is a can of tomatoes in the house, there is a meal in the house. I know this to be true. I would now like to add my own little kitchen adage, that maybe my children will remember one day. If there are a few onions in the house, there is a meal in the house.
Take a couple of onions, red or brown, cut in half and thinly slice. Caramelise these in a lot of butter, a grind of salt and pepper, with a diced garlic clove and a half teaspoon of honey. As they start to soften and become translucent move the onions together into a pile in the middle of the pan. Place the lid on, turn the heat down until it is low and soft and the onions will transform into something quite remarkable. This will take a while. They become silky and succulent, a little bit like noodles. They turn almost autumnal in colour.
Cooking with onions can be uncomfortable but eating these onions is something else entirely. They are more texture than taste; upon first bite there is no overwhelming sense of flavour, but then there is the lick of oil and a subtle sweetness. Long strands of al dente spaghetti are perfect with these onions. As you twirl your fork each thread of pasta is tied up with a streak of onion. When you finish your bowl, which you will, your lips glisten.
Pasta is my go-to meal when I cook for myself. It is comforting and quick. These onions stew, maybe nest is a better word, into a thick sauce. To these onions you could add almost anything: hunks of pancetta or other cured meats; mushrooms; small anchovy fillets; the flesh of a roasted aubergine. Or ripe chopped tomatoes cooked until they just begin to soften and lose their shape. Rocket or baby spinach swirled through just before serving so they barely wilt would add a little freshness. A diced pear or chopped dried figs cooked with the onions could add an interesting note. The torn off leaves of thyme and rosemary would lend a fragrant quality. I’m wondering if a slight splash of balsamic vinegar would make this meal taste too much like a jar of onion marmalade, or if a certain acidity would be a welcome addition. What about shredded chicken that was perhaps roasted in a harissa spice rub? Or what about garnishing the onions with lightly toasted walnuts to give the dish a bit of crunch?
I really could go on.