Balsamic, maple syrup and rosemary added to whole roasted small onions or shallots – that’s elevating the humble onions to divine heights of taste!
I know my onions
When I was a student (in a galaxy far, far away, billions light years ago) I sustained mainly on onions. And beer, but that’s not something to be proud of.
Onions though, together with cabbage, are famously the source of vitamin C for the deprived, oppressed and malnourished. Being a skint student behind the Iron Curtain, I certainly qualified as all three.
Onions ward off scurvy, help control blood sugar and are rich in nutrients. More importantly for me back then they also proved to be a fantastic hangover cure. But as I often mentioned before, a fried onion sandwich should be on everyone’s food bucket list together with puffer fish or huitlacoche.
Humble onion is the start to many a fine dish: it’s in soffritto which leads to exquisite risottos. It sits underneath sublime roast game birds. You cannot do without crispy onions sprinkled over stir fries and caramelised onion slices are far more important than aged Gruyere in a classic French onion soup.
Fried onions with a steak? Absolutely, or at least onion rings. Bangers and mash? Oh yeah, but only with onion gravy.
Not smelling of roses
The only problem is the smell: however you go about it, onions smell very strong. They smell when raw and sliced, sitting around in the kitchen – I’ve learned the hard way to prep my onions at the very last moment.
There’s no mistaking onions frying, though at that stage many will say it’s the loveliest fragrance in the world, up there with grilling bacon. And they stick around long after the meal, like a guest who outstays their welcome.
In the days of open plan kitchens (me too), the living area might be mistaken for a hot dog stand a long, long time after the washing up is done.
And that is where this dish is a winner – no odour, you see. Roasted onions, especially smothered with maple syrup, brushed with balsamic vinegar and tickled with rosemary sprigs, tend to behave themselves better than their fried mates.
They are still a fantastic companion to roast meats or even a cheese board but you don’t have to wash all your soft furnishings post-dinner.
Help! How to peel shallots?
The only chore is peeling shallots. They are very knife-resistant and have layers and layers all stuck together. So if you have a good tip or a shallot-peeling hack, please share it in the comments section below.
Until then, I do what I really detest doing. For dishes that require chopped shallots I buy ready-chopped, frozen ones, available from some supermarkets. What a waste, carbon footprint, plastic packaging etc. – I’m fully aware and feeling the guilt, so I try to replace shallots as often as I can with fully-grown onions.
Especially that ready-chopped shallots are completely useless in this particular recipe!
Cooking balsamic shallots
Once you combat the peeling obstacle, it’s easy. Salt and pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar to be rubbed into the onions or left to work on them for a while like marinade. Then just nestle them snugly in an ovenproof dish, pour over the remaining marinade and tuck in some rosemary.
They need an hour in the oven covered with foil, and I like to add the maple syrup at the end, when the foil is lifted and the shallots bask in the syrup and caramelise in the heat.
They will keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge, in a tightly closed jar.
You can use shallots or small onions, just adjust the baking time if they are bigger. Either way, a treat - a treat without the pong.
More condiment recipes
Also great with a cheese board or charcuterie is fig confit made from fresh figs cooked in madeira syrup.
And you must not forget pickles, made in a flash from any vegetables: carrots, cucumbers, beetroot or even asparagus when in season.
Another sweet-spicy preserve to make at home is greengage jelly, made from widely underrated fruit.
More onion recipes
Out of dishes where onions are indispensable, pan-fried calves’ liver must be foremost.
Crispy tobacco onions, deep fried crunchy and spicy bites that look like frazzled tobacco leaves – whence the dish takes its name.
And there’s the glorious French onion soup, of course, deep-flavoured and caramelised, with cheesy toast topping.