Ingredient SpotLight

A cousin of garlic, leek, chives, scallions, and shallots, onions are part of the lily family. They are also one of the most important ingredients in your kitchen ... finding their way into everything from salads to soups to side dishes to main courses.

And they have been important through history as well, having been cultivated for at least 7,000 years. Egyptians believed onions had strength-producing powers, therefore, they were fed to labors who built the pyramids. The Romans ate onions to gain strength and courage. Even Alexander the Great ordered his troops to eat onions to improve their vitality.

Maybe Alexander the Great was onto something. Onions are also a source of vitamin C, potassium, dietary fiber and folic acid. They also contain calcium, iron and have a high protein quality (ratio of mg amino acid/gram protein). Onions are low in sodium and contain no fat. Even better, they are incredibly versatile and delicious. On that note, here are a few of my favorite recipes featuring them. Enjoy!

Caramelized Onion Pizza

  • 4 sweet onions, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup pitted black olives, sliced
  • 1 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1 pizza dough round
  • 1/2 cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes

In a large skillet, cook the onions, thyme, allspice, salt and pepper in the olive oil at moderate heat until the juices are released. Keep cooking, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spread the onions over the dough round, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Sprinkle with olives and cheese and bake 15 minutes or until browned and bubbling. Just before serving, sprinkle the pizza with the sun-dried tomatoes.

  • Yields: 8 slices
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes

Sweet Onion Marmalade

  • 4 large sweet onions
  • 2 cups green onions
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 4 fresh or dried bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice away the root and stem end from the sweet onions, then cut into 1/4-inch thick slices. Trim away the roots from the bunch onions and slice, using all of the bulb and a portion of the green. Heat the butter and oil in a baking pan that is just large enough to hold the sliced onions in a layer about 1 inch deep. Add the onions and toss gently to thoroughly coat each piece. Sprinkle with the salt, sugar, bay leaves, and thyme, and toss again.

Bake in the oven, turning them often, until they are soft and a deep golden brown, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.

Discard the bay leaves. Stir in the vinegar a little at a time, until the right level of "zip" is achieved. Pack the onions into dry, clean jars with lids. Store in the refrigerator. The onions will keep for up to 3 weeks. Spread on burger buns for a special treat.

  • Yields: 3 half-pint jars
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes

Grilled and Roasted Sweet Onions with Pine Nut Butter

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons pine nuts (divided), toasted
  • 4 medium sweet onions
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 ounces unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Lemon wedges and rosemary sprigs for garnish

Toast the pine nuts in a 350 degree oven for 6 to 7 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool. Caution: pine nuts burn easily.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and fire up an outdoor grill. Peel the onions and cut them in half, top to bottom. Brush onions with oil and place cut side down on the preheated grill. Barbecue until grill marks form. Place on a cookie sheet and finish cooking in the oven until tender, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the pine nut butter. Place the 1/2 cup pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times until finely ground. Add butter, lemon zest, rosemary, black pepper and salt. Process until mixture is well blended. Spread the tender onions liberally with pine nut butter. Return to the oven and cook just until butter is melted, about 2 minutes.

Serve onions warm, sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese and additional toasted pine nuts. Garnish plates with lemon wedges and rosemary sprigs.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes