The Onion

It's that time of the year again... When all you want to do is escape the mad rush, the crazed looks, the crushing crowds. If you're up for a little bit of cooking, then you could easily tick off your holiday gift list without stepping out of the house. (It is Buy Nothing week-end, after all...) It may be a little late for making jams and other preserves, but it's just right for a few jars of chutney.

Although chutneys are not nearly as popular in North America as they are in the UK, they should be. Chutneys are great to have kicking about the pantry. They can make a meal: a dollop on the side of a roast can save one the trouble of making gravy; a spoonful dropped into a dull soup is a wonder; a slather on toast, with or without a piece of cheese, makes a tasty sandwich; even mixed into a plateful of pasta, chutneys are one of the most useful condiments to have on hand. While ketchup is often thought of as being in a class of its own, it is basically a smooth chutney. The following red onion chutney is a close sibling to onion marmalade, but is much easier to make.

Red Onion Chutney
Yields about three 500ml/1 pint jars

1kg red onions
3 Tbs olive oil
5 cloves garlic
10 sprigs thyme, or 1 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
5 Tbs demerara sugar, or 4 packed Tbs light brown sugar 
125ml/¼ cup balsamic vinegar
3 tsp salt
pepper to taste

Top and tail the onions, cut in half, and peel. Thinly slice the onions from top to bottom: you want the slices to look like parenthesis not half moons.
Peel and mince the garlic cloves.
Pick the leaves from the thyme
Heat the olive oil in a pan over a medium-high heat, and fry the onions until they turn translucent. 
Stir in the garlic and cook  out for a minute or two.
Season with salt, sugar, pepper, the thyme and bay leaves. 
Turn the heat down to low, and cover with a lid. 
Leave to sweat for about 20 minutes, stirring from time to time.
When the onions begin stewing in their own juices, add the balsamic vinegar, and turn the heat back up to high.
Stir continuously, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan: you want the onions to caramelise a bit, but not to burn.
After about 5 minutes, the liquid in the pot should have thickened somewhat, remove from the heat and pot up in clean jars.
Leave to cool in a draft-free spot.

The chutney will keep for a couple of weeks, though it will need to be refrigerated once the jar is opened. To ensure a longer shelf-life, process the filled jars for about 15 minutes. You can vary the flavour of the chutney by playing with herbs and spices. I had a bunch of basil and sage pining away in the fridge, so they got chopped up and thrown in. Cumin is great with onions, and would be lovely with red wine vinegar instead of the balsamic.

Bon App'!


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