Big Onions

The onions in the kitchen garden grew extra big this year, most of them approaching softball size.  I don’t know why, but they did. They were varieties I’ve grown before, Patterson and Newburg, two yellow onions, and Redwing, a red onion.  As I have for years, I started seeds indoors in early March in half-inch cell trays, hardened off the plants outdoors in mid-April and set them out in early May. Then, mulched and watered regularly, they just started growing.  

Onions are mostly a background vegetable in my kitchen, adding underlying flavor to soups, stews, and pasta sauces, but with these big beauties, I wanted recipes that would bring the pungent sweetness of onions to the fore. A New York Times Cooking recipe for a Caramelized Onion Galette looked perfect for this goal. And I remembered two other onion forward recipes I hadn’t made in a while: Alice Water’s Caramelized Onions, Gorgonzola and Rosemary Pizza and Yotam Ottolenghi’s Red Onion Salad with Arugula and Walnut Salsa.  With the winter solstice approaching, these recipes for lovely, orb-shaped onions seemed just right to brighten the shortening days.

The Caramelized Onion Galette gave me some great ideas for making a galette crust and for cooking onions.  The the additions of a cup grated gruyere cheese and a teaspoon-and-a-half of black pepper to the cup-and-a half of flour created a rich, spicy dough that turned out to be a perfect base for the onions. The technique for cooking the onions was new to me too and one I’ll use again, not just for a galette but also for a side dish.  Slicing the onions into half-inch rings was much quicker than thinly slicing them. Sauteing the rings in butter until translucent and lightly browned then adding broth and sherry and cooking until these liquids evaporated, resulted in onions that were soft and sweet but also held their shape. 

Caramelized Onion Galette

This rich, autumnal galette takes its inspiration from the flavors of French onion soup. Seasoned with Gruyère and lots of cracked black pepper, the galette dough takes the place of the crostini, and the caramelized onion filling is fortified with beef broth and sherry. The dish is great for entertaining — it can be prepared in advance — but requires a little bit of patience: You’ll need to let the dough rest for at least four hours, which allows the flour to hydrate and will make the dough less crumbly to work with. Let the tart rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving. Eat it while it’s hot or serve at room temperature alongside a salad or steak.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

For the Dough

1½ cups/190 grams all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Kosher salt and black pepper

½ cup/115 grams unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into ½-inch cubes

1⅓ cups/4 ounces grated Gruyère

¼ cup ice water

For the Onions and Assembly

¼ cup/55 grams unsalted butter (½ stick)

4 large sweet onions, peeled and sliced into ½-inch rings

4 fresh thyme sprigs, plus more fresh thyme leaves for serving

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 cup beef broth (or vegetable broth)

¼ cup dry sherry

  1. Step 1

Prepare the dough: In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, 1½ teaspoons kosher salt and 1½ teaspoons black pepper. Add butter and 1 cup grated Gruyère to the flour mixture and toss to coat. Using your fingertips, pinch the butter and cheese into the flour to make pebble-size pieces. Drizzle in the ice water and stir to make a shaggy dough. Dump the dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap and knead a few times to combine. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

  1. Step 2

Prepare the onions: In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add onions and thyme sprigs, season with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent and lightly golden on the edges, 20 to 25 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add broth and sherry and cook until the onions are browned and the liquid has mostly evaporated but the mixture is still saucy, 16 to 18 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool for at least 30 minutes.

  1. Step 3

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll the dough into a 13-inch round on a sheet of parchment. Spread the cooled caramelized onions on the dough, leaving a 1- to 2-inch border. Fold the edges in, over the onions, transfer to a baking sheet and bake until the dough is golden brown and some of the onions have browned on the edges, 40 to 50 minutes, rotating the galette halfway into the baking process.

  1. Step 4

Remove galette from the oven and sprinkle remaining ⅓ cup grated Gruyère on the crust. Bake another 5 minutes to melt the cheese. Remove and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Top with remaining thyme leaves, for garnish.

Alice Water’s Caramelized Onions, Gorgonzola and Rosemary Pizza is one of the first pizzas I made years ago from her 1995 book Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza, & Calzone, and I return to every winter even though there are many other pizzas I’ve come to love.  This recipe illustrates how less is often more with pizza toppings.  It’s a great pizza.

Gently cook 4 thinly sliced onions in some butter and olive oil, with salt and pepper, for about an hour, until brown and caramelized.  Spread the dough with the onions, dot with ¼ pound Gorgonzola and sprinkle lightly with finely chopped rosemary.  Bake and serve garnished with freshly ground black pepper.

Another recipe I turn to in winter when the red onions are beautiful and arugula is succulent and spicy is Yotam Ottolenghi’s Red Onion Salad with Arugula and Walnut Salsa from is 2014 cookbook Plenty More.  As with the onion preparation for the caramelized onion galette, the onion preparation here is quick with onions sliced three-quarters-inch thick, and cooking is easier because the onions are roasted on a sheet pan.  The spicy arugula balances the soft, sweet onions, goat cheese adds creamy texture, but the best part is the walnut salsa. Try this recipe just for the walnut salsa!  It’s delicious and, along with the onions and arugula, creates a beautiful salad to celebrate the winter solstice.

Red Onion Salad with Arugula and Walnut Salsa

4 medium red onions

1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup arugula

1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves

2 ounces soft goat cheese, broken into 1/2- to 1-inch chunks

Flaky salt and freshly cracked black pepper

For the walnut salsa:

2/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped (make sure they’re not bitter or rancid, okay?)

1 fresh red chile (e.g. Thai bird’s eye), seeded and finely chopped (I used a thawed and diced poblano chile I’d roasted and frozen in the summer; it worked well.)

1 clove garlic, minced

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil


  1. Preheat the oven to 425° F. Peel the onions and remove their tops and tails. Slice each one crosswise into 3 slices, about 3/4 inch thick, and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. (You can skip the parchment, but you’ll spend more time cleaning.) Drizzle the slices with olive oil and smoosh the oil around with your (clean) hands to coat evenly. (You can also use a pastry brush; I don’t own one.) Sprinkle with a big pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Roast for 40 minutes, until the onions begin to brown and caramelize, and are soft but not totally slouchy. (If you want more color out of them, stick them under the broiler for a minute or two.) Set them aside to cool just a bit.
  2. While the onions cook, combine all of the salsa ingredients in a small bowl, add 1/4 teaspoon salt, stir, and set aside.
  3. To serve, put the arugula and parsley in a large bowl. Toss with about half the salsa, then nestle in the onion slices, dollop on the cheese, and top with the rest of the salsa. Serve.