Can you imagine a life without onions? The very thought makes the chef in me shudder in horror. Cooking would be a nightmare, options utterly limited, dishes bland and soulless and every menu a minefield. Onions form the very core of most savoury dishes from curry to risotto and soups to stews to salads.
A wonderful friend of mine, DDG, finds himself in the very sorry situation of living in an onion free household (he is actually very happy there apart from the onion shaped void in his culinary life). Upon hearing of his wretched fortune I promptly summoned him over to Cos I’m Towers for a much needed fix of the humble bulbs in the form of an onion themed dinner.
The onion fest commenced with a puff pastry tart with red onions caramelised in red wine and topped with goat’s cheese. Finely slice two red onions and fry until tender. When soft add 3 – 4 teaspoons of caster sugar a splash of balsamic vinegar and about 8 tablespoons of red wine and leave to bubble and simmer until the onions are caramelised, stirring often. In the meantime roll out a large sheet of puff pastry (I am afraid mine was shop bought – Jus Roll. I refuse to believe that even the most dedicated home cooks have the time or energy to make puff pastry from scratch so am unashamed at this corner cutting!). Use a knife to trace a border of about an inch around the pastry and spread the centre of the ‘frame’ with a thin layer of Pesto (I used Sacla Wild Garlic Pesto). When the onions are ready, spread them over the pastry and pesto covering up to the borders. Cover this layer with scattered chunks of goat’s cheese and sprinkle with a few sprigs of rosemary and a drizzle of olive oil. Put in the oven for about 12 minutes at 180 degrees and it is ready to serve (it is also delicious cold if you wanted to prepare in advance).
With DDG’s hunger for onions merely teased by the tart but by no means satiated, we moved onto the main, where although onions were a feature the lamb really stole the show. I cannot recommend highly enough the three fold wonders and benefits of a shoulder cut of lamb – incredible value, ease of cooking and best of all utterly delicious (and plentiful) results. Slow cooked lamb shoulder is my dinner party classic – probably best saved for the weekend though if you don’t want to wait until midnight to eat as this recipe takes at least three hours in the oven to ensure that the lamb is utterly tender and melts in the mouth.
Place lots of garlic (I use a whole bulb or more) rosemary and some lemon halves in a roasting tray and put the lamb shoulder on top. Rub the meat with salt and pepper and ass a generous slug of oil. Place into a pre heated oven at 180 degrees. After 30 minutes, turn the heat up to about 200 degrees and leave in the oven for around 40 minutes.
Take the lamb out of the oven and turn it over, add more salt and pepper and another slug of olive oil, this ensure the bottom of the lamb is crispy while the top is as soft as butter, all infused with garlic and rosemary – utterly divine! Cover the lamb with foil and put back in the oven, at 180 degrees again and leave for a further 2 hours. After the cooking time let the meat sit for 5 – 10 minutes before serving. In terms of carving the meat should simply fall from the one – ensure you serve a mix of the melty top and crispy bottom to ensure delighted guests who will beg you for the recipe!
But I digress – back to the onion element of the course – I served the lamb with roast Mediterranean vegetables – roughly chop lots of onion, 2 courgettes, a red and yellow pepper and toss with plenty of olive oil and 2 cloves of garlic. Roast in the oven, stirring every 20 minutes or so to ensure the veg is evenly cooked for about an hour until the vegetables are golden and the onion soft. This is perhaps the moment to confess that to while away the two hours the lamb spent in the oven our party decamped to the local pub and my best intentions to create a dish of oniony peasant potatoes were scuppered after a few ales, meaning that a simple mash with a few drops of truffle oil completed the vegetable accompaniments!
After positively filling our faces with as much lamb and veg and red wine as is humanly possible (and still having plenty of meat left over) we enjoyed a short pause before the cheese course. This was formed of a selection of Pie D’Anglois, Gorgonzola and incredibly strong cheddar all served of course, with, a delicious onion jam!
Pudding was a miniature birthday cake (again bought) as I had wisely forseen in my menu planning, that by that stage of the evening, even a ‘wafer thin’ mint would have been too much to manage.
Dinner was a triumph and my pal was sent on his way with a belly full of onions and the remains of the onion jam to take home for emergencies! The left overs of the lamb were torn up and mixed with chickpeas, peppers and lemon and olive oil to create the following day’s salad lunch.
*Title courtesy of Geoff Partridge Esq