In these early days of 2021 I’m taking a little time to pause and appreciate some of nature’s more mundane gifts. It’s easy to overlook the importance of unassuming everyday staples. Consider the ordinary onion: it is always available waiting for its moment to shine, summer or winter. This year the onion is looking even more marvelous in my eyes, thanks to Pablo Neruda’s poetic praise.
Ode to the Onion
by Pablo Neruda
your beauty formed
petal by petal,
crystal scales expanded you
and in the secrecy of the dark earth
your belly grew round with dew.
Under the earth
the miracle happened
and when your clumsy
green stem appeared,
and your leaves were born
in the garden,
the earth heaped up her power
showing your naked transparency,
and as the remote sea
in lifting the breasts of Aphrodite
duplicating the magnolia,
so did the earth
clear as the planet
round rose of water
of the poor.
You make us cry without hurting us.
I have praised everything that exists,
but to me, onion, you are
more beautiful than a bird
of dazzling feathers,
heavenly globe, platinum goblet,
of the snowy anemone
and the fragrance of the earth lives
in your crystalline nature.
How to Roast an Onion
1 medium sweet onion, unpeeled
1 tsp olive oil
Rub the unpeeled skin with olive oil. Bake for 30-40 minutes in hot coals or in 375°F oven, until soft when pressed. The longer it cooks, the softer and sweeter it becomes. Serve hot, cut into smaller wedges. Peel skin ahead or while eating; drizzle with more olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. Enjoy as a side with grilled or roasted entrees. Serve 1-2. Use in lieu of caramelized onion in soup, omelets, on pizza or burgers.
I finally came up with a smoked salmon pizza that makes sense. I love the idea but have been stuck on a Nova salmon approach for so long, I missed the obvious.
I had to get beyond the New York Nova style salmon, the cold smoked process that we think of with bagels and lox. In my mind, this equated to adding salmon after baking the pizza to preserve its delicate smoked essence.
Well, of course. Here in the Pacific Northwest, hot smoked salmon is king. That smoking process delivers a bolder, firmer, deeply smoked salmon that’s unflinchingly good, whether hot or cold.
Once out of that box, a concept finally emerged, a hot smoked salmon pizza with a buckwheat crust topped with toasted onion rings.
I’d retain some elements associated with traditional Nova, but for this pizza I’d veer off with a buckwheat infused crust. I’d keep it simple with a light white sauce and bites of the hot smoked salmon graced with toasted sweet onion rings, capers, dill and rosemary.
There’s nothing complicated with any of these moving parts, but they do require a little advance work.
The buckwheat crust brings a toasted nuttiness which is lovely with the salmon. I often use buckwheat in baking as an alternative to whole wheat and stock a small amount of the flour purchased in bulk for occasional use.
The crust is the usual pizza dough here, substituting ½ cup buckwheat flour for ½ cup AP, if no buckwheat go with wheat flour if you have it. Since the dough only needs a few minutes to rise and pats out like a dream, I tend to continue on and prebake 2 medium crusts (or 1 large) because they freeze so well. This way, finishing a pizza can be done at my own speed rather than futzing with dough at the last minute.
For the onion, I opt for sliced sweet onion which is not caramelized in the true sense. Rather, the rings are kept as intact slices and laid onto a flat skillet with a light coating of butter and evoo. The slices are left to toast undisturbed, then flipped over and browned a little longer for a total of 10-12 minutes.
The sauce is essentially a light Mornay enriched with a little Asiago cheese and a dollop of thick yogurt. It’s flour base provides stability for the yogurt— which holds beautifully and supplies a creamy bright edge rather than richness.
The pizza makes a superb dinner with salad. As you would expect, it is delish the next day for breakfast.
Smoked Salmon Pizza with Buckwheat Crust & Toasted Onion Rings
1-2 tsp evoo for pan
1 recipe Quick & Easy Pizza Dough
½ cup buckwheat flour (or whole wheat flour)
5 oz hot smoked salmon Toasted Onion Rings
2 tsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
1 sweet onion, slices Cheese Sauce
2 tsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
1 Tbsp AP flour
¼ tsp each salt, ⅛ tsp white pepper
2 Tbsp Asiago or Parmesan cheese
½ cup liquid: stock, water, etc.
½ cup milk
⅓ cup thick yogurt Finish
½ cup Asiago or Parmesan, grated
¼ tsp or more coarse ground pepper
2 tsp capers, drain
2 tsp mixed fresh herbs: rosemary and dill
Prepare dough, substitute ½ cup AP Flour with ½ buckwheat flour. Let rise 10-20 minutes. For medium pizza, use ½ recipe. For large pizza, use entire recipe.
To toast onion, heat butter and olive oil over medium/low heat in wide skillet or on a griddle. Lay sliced rounds of onion into pan and toast until golden; carefully turn and toast second side, for a total of 10-15 minutes. Remove rings, cool on plate and set aside.
For Cheese Sauce, in small saucepan heat butter and oil over medium/low heat. Add the flour, salt, and pepper and stir for 3-4 minutes. Add the cheese to melt and then stir in ½ cup liquid to dissolve flour, then add the milk, stirring to create a sauce. Stir in the yogurt, combine and heat briefly. Adjust seasoning and set aside.
Shape ½ the dough with oiled hands onto oiled 9-10” pizza pan or pat out all for 1 large crust. It can be prebaked at this point, see dough recipe.
Spread the dough with Cheese Sauce.
Divide the salmon into chunks and arrange evenly oven the sauce. Drape with onion rings.
Sprinkle with ground pepper, grated cheese, capers and herbs.
Bake 425-450°F until bubbly and top begins to color, 18-25 minutes. Makes 1 medium/large pizza
It’s always a party when I pull out my kitchen torch.
Today’s occasion: French onion soup. Earlier at the farmers’ market, pearly white sweet onions—still kissed with morning dew—looked almost too gorgeous to touch.
A sudden vision of the well-picked-over roast chicken carcass in the fridge at home was a wake-up nudge that a tasty chicken stock was waiting in the wings.
A hearty beef stock really makes onion soup sing, but a chicken stock simmered in the remains of a flavorful roast is a beautiful thing, too. In my slow cooker, stock is an effortless commodity. For the onion soup stock, I’d add onion cuttings, a carrot for a touch of sweetness, and fresh herbs, then cover it all with boiling water and check back later in the day.
My go to Onion Soup follows, but I tend to change it up it depending on what I have on hand. Sweet onions with a high sugar content are key; sauté them over moderately low heat until they begin to turn color and caramelize. If necessary, add a teaspoon of sugar while sautéing the onions to encourage the full caramelization process. Once the stock is added, the soup is ready within a half hour—or it can be set aside and reheated when ready.
To finish it all, I carved and toasted thick slices of a multi-grained artisan bread and sprinkled them with a combination of shaved Parmesan and Havarti cheese. No need to crank up the broiler on this warm summer day.
My trusty torch was on hand for the artful transformation of simple ingredients into a glorious soup crowned with essential rafts of toasted cheesy goodness.
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoon brandy
6 cups rich beef or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
½ teaspoon each fresh savory and rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup white wine or dry sherry
Accompaniments: 6 croutons (1/2” thick slices toasted baguette)
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a soup pot, sauté onions with butter and olive oil over medium heat until aromatic. Reduce heat and stir occasionally, cook until onions are deep golden and caramelized, 30 minutes or longer.
Deglaze pan by carefully pouring in brandy and stir well. Add stock, seasonings, wine, and simmer partially covered for 30 minutes.
In individual bowls, place a crouton in center and sprinkle with cheese, pour a generous amount of onion soup over each. If using oven proof bowls, broil 3” from heat source, watching carefully until tops bubble and brown. Serve with more cheese. Serves 4 – 6.