There are times when I glance around my chaotic home office, and I despair a little. Then my eyes glaze over and I fall into a reverie about the good ol’ days, when I used to be organized: desktop in order, with clearly demarcated “to do” and “done” piles. Mail returned with great alacrity, and an empty “inbox” each evening. Shoes and boots lined up like bottles at a county fair, erect and waiting for the ball that will topple them. Laundry folded, laid neatly in drawers (never left to languish untouched on the top of the dresser for days).
Ah, yes, it’s a lovely dream. In more recent times, what with papers to mark, driveways to shovel, cooking classes to teach, orders to bake, dogs to walk, blogs to write–well, I admit that I’ve become a little slack on the home front. But seriously, do you really need more than four square inches of desk space to pay your bills online? Do you really need bookshelves to hold all your books, when the packing boxes they were moved in will do a perfectly acceptable job? Do floors really need to be washed all that often (speaking of, if your floors aren’t up to snuff, just get a puppy. Presto! It’s like one of those zoomba roboty things that catches every spill–leaving floors spic and span–with no effort on your part!).
Well, weird things are starting to happen now that I’ve cut chocolate out of my life. Suddenly, my disorderly surroundings began to feel intolerable (I mean, it’s been this way pretty much since the day we moved in here), and I went on a tidying rampage: clear the mess on the desk! Fold that laundry! Line up those shoes! Tote that barge, lift that bale. . ! And then, I felt like cooking. Cooking onions.
I had always considered onions to be a mere accessory to something else: an adjunt to the roasted garlic in a spelt pizza, a great starter ingredient for soups, or a bedrock for that slab of tempeh in a Tempeh Ruben. And yet, ever since the CFO came to visit a few weeks ago, onions have been tumbling around in the back of my mind. During her visit, she convinced me to buy a copy of Cooking Light magazine, something I’d never done before despite being an avowed magazine junkie (uh oh, I detect a pattern here. . . can the Week of Magazine Asceticism be far behind?).
Guilty of judging a magazine by its cover, I’d always assumed the recipes within would be rife with “diet” or “lite” ingredients (usually chemically-enhanced or highly processed) as a way of creating these so-called lighter versions of strandard fare (geez, didn’t I notice it was called Cooking Light and not Cooking Lite?). Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong!
As soon as I flipped open the current issue, a stunning photo of cipollinis beckoned. Now, I’d never even heard of cipollini onions before that moment but, like a new word you finally look up in the dictionary that subsequently pops up everywhere thereafter, these onions had entered my consciousness and I began to notice their presence in familiar places–old cookbooks, food tv shows, other blogs. Within a week, I’d seen them mentioned three or four times.
As much as I love onions, I’d never based an entire dish on them before. (I’d only heard of such a travesty once, during my final PhD year. At the time, my friend Ginny’s husband was being called upon to chip in at home for the first time in their 10-year marriage, as Ginny was overwhelmed with work and studies and often late for dinner. One evening, after a long night’s studying at the library, Ginny returned home to find that her hubby had attempted to cook dinner on his own. As she gravitated toward the heavenly scent of sauteed onions, her husband beamed with pride as he directed her to a huge frypan on the stove, lifted the cover, and revealed–a pan of fried onions! That’s right: he could think of nothing to combine with them, nothing else to add, but he did know how to fry. Last I heard, they were getting a divorce.)
This recipe combines buttery-soft onions with plump raisins and toasted pine nuts in an allluring, glossy glaze. Once the dish was complete, it did look very much like the photo in the magazine. It also tasted great, with the sweet-tart appeal of a good chutney. It was then I realized, much like Ginny’s husband, “what am I going to do with all these onions?” As a side dish to some hunk of meat, they might seem sufficient on their own, but that wasn’t happening in my house. Don’t get me wrong–it was very, very good; just not good enough to stand on its own. So I decided to ladle the mixture over herb-roasted Yukon Gold potatoes and–voila–a lovely, light dinner was born.
And, ironically, you really do need to be organized to make this dish. Just to peel the onions, you must blanch, cool, squeeze, and pull off the skins. This alone took me 30 minutes, before I even began to prepare the rest of the dish.
Yes, cipollinis are lovely. But heck, with my schedule, next time I’ll just use chunks of the good ol’ regular kind.
Roasted Potatoes with Sweet and Sour Cipolllini Onions
(from Cooking Light, Jan/Feb 2008 )
This recipe offers a gussied-up version of the archetypal combination, roast potatoes and onions. We ate this as a main course, but if you prefer, you can serve these separately, as side dishes.
For the potatoes:
2 lb. (about 1 kg.) Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into quarters
2-4 Tbsp. (30-60 ml.) extra virgin olive oil
generous sprinklings of oregano, rosemary, parsley and thyme
salt to taste
For the onions:
1/4 cup (60 ml.) raisins
1/2 cup (125 ml.) hot water
2 pounds (about 1 kg.) cipollini onions
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) butter (I used olive oil)
3 Tbsp. (45 ml.) water
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) sugar (I used agave nectar)
1/4 tsp. (1.5 ml.) sea salt
1/4 tsp. (1.5 ml.) freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) pine nuts
Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C). Grease a large roasting pan or rimmed cookie sheet, or line with parchment paper. In a large bowl, toss the potatoes with olive oil. Place in a single layer in the pan and sprinkle with the herbs. Roast in preheated oven until done and a little crispy on the outside, about 45 minutes to an hour.
Meanwhile, prepare the onions:
Place raisins in a bowl and cover with the 1/2 cup hot water. Let stand 30 minutes or until plump. Drain.
Trim top and root end of onions. Cook onions in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain, cool and peel. (The skins were supposed to slip off easily, but they were not not exactly cooperative).
Melt butter (or olive oil) in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions to pan, stirring well to coat. Stir in 3 Tbsp. water [I found I had to add more later on to keep the mixture from scorching], red wine vinegar, sugar (agave), salt, and black pepper. Cover, reduce heat and cook 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. [I found I needed more time than this before they began to really caramelize.]
Add raisins and pine nuts to pan. Inrease heat to medium, and cook, uncovered, 10 minutes or until lightly browned and liquid almost evaporates, stirring occasionally.
Divide potatoes into 4 servings, and ladle the cipollini mixture on top of each.