There are hundreds of species in the genus Allium, members of the lily family, which are native to the temperate region of the northern hemisphere. Of those hundreds, a mere handful are important to humans, but they have been prized for their remarkable flavor for thousands of years. Cuisines ancient and modern would be far different if not for the lowly, yet versatile onion!
Onions, and most of their edible relatives, are cultivated primarily for their plump bulbs, which grow underground. The bulb, growing in concentric layers, is the onion’s way of storing energy for the coming year’s growing season. This energy takes the form of natural sugars which are fully released by long, slow cooking, which coincidentally also breaks down the sharp, pungent notes characteristic of onions, yielding a mellow, nutty flavor that is satisfyingly meaty.
But what is sweet and savory without the third great flavor – sour? The fruity, sweet-sour tang of balsamic vinegar has often been paired with onions, and is one of the classic combinations of Italian cuisine. This week’s recipe combines balsamic cream, a thickened blend of balsamic vinegar and unfermented grape juice, with slow-roasted onions and butter, creating a succulently tender confiture that is packed with savory, sweet and sour flavor.
These versatile roasted onions are at home served warm alongside roasted meats and poultry, or with grilled seafood, but they’re equally wonderful served at room temperature as part of an elaborate antipasti spread. Chilled, they make an excellent addition to salads and sandwiches or can be chopped or blended into vinaigrettes, dressings and marinades.
Roasted Onions with Balsamic Cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Trim root end slightly, leaving the core of the root intact. Quarter each onion lengthwise and remove the outer papery peel, leaving each quarter onion in one piece. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.
Melt the butter in a large oven proof skillet or frying pan with a tightly-fitting lid over medium heat. When the butter begins to bubble, place the onion quarters with one cut side down. Cook for 5 – 6 minutes or until slightly caramelized, then reduce the heat and turn onto the other cut side to cook for another 2 – 3 minutes.
Pour the balsamic cream over the onions, gently moving them around to make sure some of the balsamic cream gets under each piece. Simmer for a minute or two, then turn back onto the other cut side for another minute to coat.
Carefully flip the onion quarters onto their backs, cover the pan tightly and slide into the preheated oven to roast for 15 – 20 minutes. Take the pan out of the oven and remove the lid. Lift the onions out of the pan and onto a serving plate. Spoon some of the accumulated juices over each piece of onion. If too thick, swirl in a little water until it reaches the consistency of heavy cream. Sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves, if using, and serve. Fantastic hot, at room temperature or cold.
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