A humble vegetable, but a very important one – almost every meal begins with the peeling of an onion. They make a brilliant base for all sorts of dishes, from soups, stews and stocks to pasta sauces, stir-fries and curries. Ours are pretty pokey, so have some tissues to hand!
Storage & prep
Will keep for a week or two
Storage: The backbone and starting point of countless recipes. Keep cool and dry, preferably somewhere with a bit of air movement so they can breathe. Should last a few weeks.
Prep: They are quicker to peel and slice if topped, tailed and halved first. Any trimmings are a welcome addition to a stock pot. Tricks to avoid tears? Learn to live with the momentary discomfort! Any crazy contraptions or contortions will surely increase your risk of detaching a digit.
Brown onions aren’t often eaten raw, though maybe in a well-seasoned slaw. Recipes almost always understate the time it takes to soften an onion. You’ll need at least 5-10 mins until they even start to yield and lose their raw edge. Slow-cooked they will collapse down into a sweet, golden tangle. Try roasting them in wedges or even baking whole until meltingly tender.
Raw: For the most part standard brown onions are far too strong to be eaten raw. If part of an eclectic and well-dressed slaw they should be tempered and tolerable. Likewise a simple salad of raw onion, chopped mint and black onion seeds works as a side when balanced by a fierce and aromatic curry.
Slow cooked: Put sliced onions in a saucepan with oil or a walnut sized knob of butter and a pinch of salt. Cook gently for 40 mins. You can let them take on a little bit of colour, scraping the bottom of the pan and giving regular turns, but add a little water if they look like they may catch or burn. You should have a sweet, golden and buttery tangle. This is a great base for a French onion soup or onion gravy.
Baked whole: Cut a deep cross into each onion, almost down to the root but not quite. Force some softened butter and a few sprigs of thyme into the cut. Rub the onion with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place your onions into a snug fitting roasting tray, add a dash of water, cover well with foil and bake at 200˚C for 40 mins before removing the cover and finishing for another 10 mins.
Sticky onion marmalade
This sticky onion marmalade adds a little extra tang to any cheese and biscuit occasion, or great to tie a ribbon around and present as a gift to friends or family. Makes about 2 jars.
Yellow onions (a.k.a. brown or white onions) are your regular, all-purpose onions. Their pungency depends on variety, growing conditions and length of storage. Enjoy them sharp and punchy when eaten raw, or mellow and caramelised after a long, slow cook.
Red onions are slightly sweeter than regular onions. The maroon-skinned bulbs are good raw in salads or roasted, whole or in wedges, with a little sugar or honey. They can stand in for yellow onions in most recipes.
Shallots are milder and sweeter than onions. They require more effort to grow and dry (and peel) but are worth it for recipes calling for a less astringent taste. Use them finely diced in dressings, salsas and garnishes, roast them whole or substitute them for onions as the base of risottos or sauces.