Wednesday, November 18, 2009

ode to an onion

ever since bee and i discussed doing a post on The Essential Cooking Ingredient (look at me, using caps), i have been debating with myself as to what ingredient it should be. cream? bacon? olive oil? lemon? garlic? which one, if it disappeared tomorrow, would i miss the most? and then i realized, it's the onion. even when i'm not inspired to cook, i can dice an onion, throw it in the pan with a bit of olive oil and it will be the start of something. just the reassuring smell of it rising from the pan is sure to spark some sort of inspiration. because an onion is the base of many good dishes...spaghetti, curries, even soups. an onion lends its reliable character to most any savory dish. i have multiple kinds of onions in the house at any given moment - ordinary yellow ones, red ones, shallots, garlic (arguably in the onion family), leeks. onions are so basic and essential that pablo neruda actually wrote an ode to them.

ode to an onion
by pablo neruda

luminous flask,
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
and when your clumsy
green stem appeared,
and your leaves were born
like swords
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
make you,
clear as a planet
and destined
to shine,
constant constellation,
round rose of water,
the table
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,
unmoving dance
of the snowy anemone
and the fragrance of the earth lives
in your crystalline nature.

onions are so versatile, i simply couldn't do without them. they're the ultimate savory, but they also work nicely in sweet chutneys and they pair well with apples, complementing the sweet tartness.  here's one of my favorite wintery dishes - æbleflæsk, it's called in danish.

* * *

danish side pork with apples & onions aka æbleflæsk

3 medium onions, peeled and sliced into rounds
3 cooking apples - i use ingrid maries here in denmark, but any good cooking apple is fine - peeled, cored and sliced
50 grams butter
3 T olive oil
800 grams side pork, cut into slices.

lay the side pork out on a baking tray lined with baking paper for easy clean-up and put it in the oven at 175℃/350℉ and bake until it goes crispy. the time this will take depends quite a lot on your pork, but i'd say it generally takes 30-45 minutes and you may need to finish by turning the broiler on 200℃ to crisp it up. i use the hot air setting on my oven and that makes it a bit faster. just keep checking it, it will be brown and crispy when it's done. take it out and transfer it to a plate with paper towels to soak up some of the excess fat.

meanwhile, sauté your onions in the butter and olive oil until they are soft, but not browned. add the apples and continue to sauté. add more butter and another glug of olive oil if it appears to need it. the apples should release their juices, but you may need to add a bit of water. it shouldn't be dry.

when the apples are cooked through, put the apple/onion mixture on a plate and top it with the crispy side pork. serve and enjoy.

EDITED: apparently side pork is a south dakota-ism, so i should probably explain what it is. it's the bacon cut of the hog, but not cured like bacon. and here in denmark, it still has the skin on it, which is great, because then you get crispy pork rinds as part of the deal and the homemade kind are yummy yummy yummy. it comes either in a big lump that you slice yourself or at least here in denmark, you can get big packages of it sliced in rather thick slices.  and by thick i mean 1cm+, so not thin strips like bacon. ask your butcher for some, i'm sure they can help. tho' one time when i asked for a pork roast with the skin still on from the local butcher (who was my cousin, incidentally) back in my hometown, they looked at me like i was speaking a foreign language. which i might well have been doing, since i'd long since shed the fargo accent.

* * *

go forth, use an onion today. you won't regret it.


Jelica said...

hmm, now that i think about it, i can't a remember a single meal that i can cook without an onion. today will be no exception :)

Char said...

it's weird isn't that I don't really like onion, though I use it a lot. I'm that way with a lot of things - i like the yummy, caramelized, cooked onion but not the sharpness of the raw.

the dish sound rather good though and of course the photography is excellent. as is the poetry - but i'm a sucker for him really. him and rilke.

Magpie said...

Mmm, you're right - onions are essential.

What, though, is side pork?

Anne said...

I love that photo! And I so agree: the onion (family) is the most indispensable of my kitchen essentials. Onions, shallots, leeks, garlic (which, yes, is not only in the same family, but the same genus), I don't know what I'd do without them.

The suitor, on the other hand, would be most content if no onions ever darkened our doorstep again. I can understand not caring for raw onions, but cooked? Especially in butter or bacon fat, until they're meltingly tender and starting to brown at the edges? How can anyone think that's not heaven? Oh well. More for me. :)

Nimble said...

Oh yes! I thank Earth for the onion. I also find the smell of onion softening in hot olive oil to be reassuring. Something good will happen there. My oldest daughter loves raw onions. She learned to pick wild onion tops and loves green onions and one day when I was slicing a big white onion she begged for a piece. I thought she would have to spit it out but no. Sometimes we call her Cebollita. (I have not idea if that would be understood by a Spanish speaker or not.)

Bee said...

Like several others, (but not Cebollita, apparently), I can't abide the taste of raw onions. But onions that have gone soft and translucent in a butter/olive oil mix? That's a different thing entirely.

I think that I must spend at least 10 minutes every day chopping onions. Thank goodness, as Neruda says, that although they make us cry -- they don't hurt us.

Thank you for the explanation of side pork, but I'm still not entirely sure what it is. I'm going to go talk to my butcher.

Anne said...

Bee - I've also seen it called "pork belly." Nigel Slater's Appetite has a gorgeous-looking recipe for roasted pork belly with potatoes, but I've never tried it--primarily because I can't quite justify cooking such a large piece of meat just for two people!

Bee said...

Anne - I DID wonder if that was the case! Pork belly is readily available, and features in many recipes. I'll give it a try and report back.


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