Onions are often treated as an additional ingredient to a dish.
Indeed, they are essential in creating a base for so many cuisines including the foundation of many Italian sauces and Indian curries.
They are, on their own, frugal food. Perhaps.
But I think they deserve their place among the best ingredients to use and embrace in the kitchen. Not only as background component but as the focus of the dish itself.
A dish to me is special when it involves simple ingredients and focuses on utilising those ingredients to make your mouth sing with pleasure.
Last month, after ordering dinner as part of a belated Christmas meal with friends, we were brought, in typical French fashion, an amuse-bouche of white onion and cider soup. A palate teaser as I like to call them. A way for the chef to offer a glimpse of what is to come.
So taken with this miniature mouthful of deliciousness, I was desperate to find a recipe to make as soon as possible back in the home kitchen.
This dish grabbed me, not only because it tasted so good, but the focus was on the onions. As well as one of the most used vegetables in our kitchen, they are also easy to grow.
Onions can be grown from seeds or sets. Growing from seed will provide a huge choice in variety and if you can sow early in the year, with some warmth, then it’s certainly the best approach for growing onions. If you want an easy and efficient method for growing onions from seed, then I recommend Charles Dowding’s.
Sets provide a restricted variety of onion to grow but are much easier and will usually provide you with a sound crop towards the end of summer.
Plant the sets in a bed in March with the tip of each bulb poking above the soil. Space each set 6” apart in rows a foot apart. Keep the soil around the onions weed free, but try not to damage the roots of the onions in the process as this can shock their growth and results in smaller bulbs.
Water the onions well during the summer and stop watering three weeks before harvest time. Onions are ready when the stems have turned yellow and have fallen over.
What I also love about this staple is its incredible capacity to store. I harvested our crop of onions in late summer and they are still providing for the dining table in the middle of February.
Ideally, you plait the onions and hang them to be cut and used when required. This looks splendid. However, they just need to be stored in a cool, dry place to last well into the New Year.
Onion and cider soup with Gruyère toast
Minimum ingredients and a whole heap of onion marry perfectly with the cider in this dish. It’s scrumptious.
Sliced onions are softened in a pan with butter and a few sprigs of thyme. Salt and sugar are added and bring out the flavour and sweetness of the onions as they gently caramelise over a medium heat.
Pour in some chicken stock and the cider. I’m using award-winning farmhouse cider from the Welsh Cider and Perry Company, Gwynt y Ddraig.
Allow the soup to simmer gently and savour the wonderful smell filling the kitchen before blitzing in a blender until smooth.
The finale of this masterpiece is to take some slices of baguette, toast until golden on both sides then top with Gruyère and grill until melted.
This soup is delicious. It sweet with a savoury background and is very moreish. However, a small amount goes a long way, which is why the amuse-bouche had me thrilled and craving more.
The recipe is by Tom Aikens and can be found on the happy foodie.
What about you? How are you growing onions in 2018? If you have a favourite recipe for using onions, I’d love to hear about it. Drop me a comment below or come join the conversation on Facebook.
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