Friday, September 24, 2004


My only complaint about my favorite cookbook, Pasta e Verdura? Longest recipe titles in the world. This one was listed as something like “Caramelized Onions With White Wine, Cream, and Fresh Herbs on Pasta.” You don’t need to list every single ingredient there, Jack Bishop. But I quibble. This is a fantastic, elegant recipe. Not for every day, of course, what with all that cream and the fact that your entire home will smell of onions for 24 hours afterwards, but still, wow. I’d never much liked onions, too strong-tasting when raw, too crunchy-slimy when cooked; I scraped them off hamburgers, I pulled them out of onion rings and just ate the fried coating. This pasta was a revelation: I do like onions, rather a lot, when they’re mushy and browned and sweet, especially tinged with the sourness of wine and the bitter greenness of herbs. And, you know, cream and cheese never hurt anything, either. When I peeled and chopped the onions, the onion-phobe in me said, “Boy, that sure is a lot of onions.” But they cook down a lot, and there’s not much else in the sauce, so don’t wuss out.

This recipe takes a little extra time to slow-cook the onions, but very little skill in preparation. The food is rich, so smaller servings with side salads are a good idea. I just made a half-recipe last night, because if there’s creamy oniony pasta laying around the house, I will eat as much as I can hold.

¼ cup olive oil
4 medium onions (about 1½ pounds), chopped
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup white wine
6 tablespoons heavy cream
1 cup tightly packed mixed fresh herbs, such as parsley, basil, sage, thyme, oregano, or marjoram (I use basil and parsley for the majority, with a medium amount of oregano and a small amount of thyme added in)
1 pound fettuccine
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat, add the onions when the oil is warm, and sauté them, stirring occasionally, until they're very brown and tender, 30-40 minutes. (The onions should cook very slowly; if they start to burn, lower the heat.)

2. While the onions are cooking, fill a large pot with salted water for cooking the pasta, put it on the stove, bring it to a boil, and then put in the pasta and cook until al dente.

3. When the onions are suitably caramelized, season them with the salt and pepper. Raise the heat to medium and add the wine. Scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any tasty brown bits, simmer the wine until the alcohol smell fades, about 3 minutes. Add the cream and herbs to the pan, bring the sauce to a boil, and simmer it until it thickens slightly, about 1 minute.

4. Drain the pasta, toss it with the sauce and the grated Parmesan, season with a little extra pepper, and tah-dah!

Serves: 6
Time: About an hour

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