"Banish the onion from the kitchen and the pleasure flies with it. Its presence lends color and enchantment to the most modest dish; its absence reduces the rarest delicacy to hopeless insipidity, and dinner to despair." - Elizabeth Robbins Pennell
My husband, Claud, is a genius. The very first thing he taught me about cooking anything was to begin with an onion. This simple lesson makes food magical.
Sometimes he stands in the kitchen with a knife and an onion at the cutting board, just slicing away. I'll walk in and ask him, "Mmm - what are you making?" He replies, "I don't know."
Caramelized onion pizza with arugula and truffle oil
What he knows is that whatever he makes will taste far superior by adding the onion. He is right. Remove onions from guacamole, salsa, soups, casseroles, stews, or even eggs and you will notice the difference. What I know is that as soon as Claud begins to cook those onions, the entire house smells like paradise.
The origin of onions is difficult to establish. Most historians concur that they have been being eaten for over five thousand years all over the world. For centuries, onions have been used for art, medicine and mummification as well as food.
In Egypt, onions were a common symbol of eternity. They were buried with Pharaohs and shown upon the altars of gods.
Caramelized Onion Pizza
with Arugula and Truffle Oil
Whole wheat pizza dough (recipe follows). Or, store bought dough.
3 large onions, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)
1 teaspoon jam (optional)
2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 cups arugula
1/2 tablespoon truffle oil (optional)
6 kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
While the dough is rising make the caramelized onions:
In a large pan, skillet or wok, slowly cook the onions until they brown (about 15 minutes). If you aren't using oil, use tablespoons full of water occasionally to stop them from burning. Once they are brown, add the jam and sugar. If not using jam and sugar, just keep stirring until they become caramelized (about ten minutes). Onions have natural sugar, so it isn't necessary to add more sugar.
Layer the onions onto the dough and place into the oven. Cook for ten minutes (until pizza dough is cooked and slightly browned at the edges).
Toss arugula in a bowl with the truffle oil and salt. Layer this over the onions. Place olives on top. Slice and serve.
Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
1 teaspoon sugar
1-1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 cups whole wheat flour
1-1/2 cup flour
Preheat oven to 425 degrees
In a large bowl, dissolve sugar in warm water. Sprinkle yeast in and let stand for about ten minutes. Stir olive oil and salt into the mixture. Mix in whole wheat flour and 1 cup flour. Tip dough onto a floured surface and cover with remaining flour. Knead until all flour absorbed and dough becomes smooth (ten minutes). Place dough into oiled bowl. Cover loosely with towel and let stand for one hour. Roll out to desired thickness and shape. Cook on an oiled pan.
In India, as early as 6th Century B.C., onions were celebrated in the book, Charaka-Sanhhita as medicine. They were considered a diuretic and good for digestion, heart, eyes and joints.
In Greece, onions were used to fortify athletes before the Olympic games. The athletes would eat several onions, drink onion juice and rub onions all over their bodies. Romans believed onions cured vision problems, induced sleep, healed mouth sores, healed dog bites, and soothed toothaches.
By the middle ages, onions were used as rent payments and as wedding gifts too. They must have been considered really special, like a toaster oven. Onions were widely used in cuisine throughout history.
After bringing onions over with them on the Mayflower, the pilgrims discovered that the Native Americans were already eating onions grown right here in North America.
Sure, onions have a couple of side effects, like bad breath and tears when you cut them. No biggie! Chew on some parsley and your breath will return to its natural glory. Then, just place the onions in the refrigerator for a while before you cut them. For some reason, this helps stop the sulfuric compounds from making your eyes water. Also, if you leave the root on until the end, you will notice the difference too. No excuses.
Besides, as Julia Child said, "It's hard to imagine civilization without onions."
Furthermore, onions are high in vitamin C and a good source of fiber, low in sodium and have no fat.
This week, I created a dish in which the onions are the stars of the show. I began by choosing three beautiful large yellow onions. I sliced them with the root on so I wouldn't get teary. My eyes were fine. I think I walked away once, briefly. Then, I slowly sauteed them in a wok. I was caramelizing these onions, which is Claud's favorite way to cook and to eat onions. Slowly I stirred these onions until they were brown and continued stirring them until they were good and caramelized. I added in a little sugar and/or jam to help sweeten them up and to speed up the caramelization. However, the sugar and jam are not necessary.
These caramelized onions were the sauce for a whole-wheat pizza. Once I layered the onions all over the crust and placed this into the oven, I tossed some arugula into a bowl. I drizzled a little truffle oil and sprinkled some salt onto the arugula. The oil can also be eliminated in this dish.
I also pan seared a filet mignon to thinly slice and layer onto the caramelized onions for Claud's half. As a finishing touch, I placed a few kalamata olives on top. I really like this pizza because it doesn't have any added fat from cheese; it uses healthy whole-wheat crust and has so many layers of flavors. The onions are sweet while the arugula with truffle oil is savory and peppery, then the olives are salty. It's so delicious.