I bought Yotam Ottolenghi‘s amazing book of vegetarian cooking Plenty as a well-meaning Mother’s Day gift for my mum (who loves her vegetables) only for her to confess a year later that she found it daunting and had never used it, and so she lent it to me. Whereupon it promptly spent a month and a half sitting on my shelf, because I too found it daunting.
In my defence, though, one of my housemates last year bought Ottolenghi’s first cookbook and decided to start off by cooking a loaf of Ottolenghi’s bread which promptly took her three days to make, so you can understand my caution in knowing that the same wouldn’t happen to me. I love my food, but I just don’t have that kind of time.
(Incidentally, though, how does Ottolenghi run all these restaurant chains when his stuff requires so much marinating and resting and prodding? He must be a demon at rotas.)
However, on Friday I had a friend who happened to be a vegetarian over for dinner and so this seemed like a good chance to try out something adventurous that I would never normally do. I picked stuffed onions, as I’d seen them on an old series of Masterchef, they looked delicious and I figured that they’d be pretty simple.
They were delicious, but simple they were not.
And for all the elegance of the end result, I’m still not sure if they were worth the effort. They were undeniably impressive, and if I were to hold a dinner party they’d be a great starter, but as a main course they just weren’t quite big enough. It’s difficult to separate the onion skins without breaking them when you start out, too, although admittedly it did get easier when I’d done a few.
Anyway, here’s the recipe. Give it a try, but leave at least 45 minutes more than you thought you’d need.
This serves four, allegedly, although that depends on your skill at separating onion layers.
You’re going to need:
Butter to grease the dish
500ml vegetable stock
350ml white wine
4 large onions (Nonsense. Buy at least eight, or go hungry.)
3 small tomatoes
120g fresh white breadcrumbs
90g feta, crumbled (I used Lancashire Cheddar as I can’t stand feta, and it worked just as well)
80g parsley leaves, finely chopped (this is an awful lot. I put in 35g, one full bag)
3tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 spring onions, thinly sliced
3/4 tsp salt
So. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees or Gas Mark 4, and butter a small ovenproof dish.
Put your stock and white wine in a medium saucepan that you can fit three or four onion skins in and bring it to the boil. Cut 5mm (if in doubt, go for more, rather than less) off the top and bottom of your onions and then cut them in half and remove the brown skins. Now you get to the hard part. You need to separate the two or three outer layers. To do this, gently peel away the layer you’re trying to remove at its left and right edges and then after you’ve loosened it, try and get a fingernail off and simply let it peel away. Don’t do it too fast, or you’ll just break it.
When you’ve got a decent collection of these – if you’re doing it as a main course, you need at least 4 per person, but ideally a lot more – then put them in your stock and wine mixture for 3/4 minutes until just tender. Drain them and let them cool a bit, but hold onto the stock.
Make your stuffing, by grating the tomatoes with a coarse cheese grater – you’ll be left with the skin in your hand that you can chuck away. Add the breadcrumbs, feta, parsley, olive oil, garlic, spring onions, salt and pepper to them and mix with your hands.
Fill the onion layers with stuffing – Ottolenghi says “generously”, but I ran out of mixture, so you could make some more than he recommends – and fold them over into fat cigar shapes (see pictures). Put them, seam-side down, into your buttered dish, and then pour over about 75ml of the reserved stock to cover the bottom of the dish. Bake them for 45-50 minutes, or until they’re soft, lightly coloured and with the inside bubbling.
And then serve them with nice bread and salad, at least, or a fat pile of carbs, or your guests will go hungry.
PS. Ottolenghi says that you can save the onion cores and stock to make a base for a hearty onion soup – like I say, the man must be a demon at rotas. I forgot and accidentally chucked the stock down the sink. Oops.