Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Rotini with Caramelized Onions and Sausage

Call me crazy, but caramelized onions can do no wrong. Their richness and complexity can elevate a simple dish to an extraordinary experience.

I love them.

And damn, love is a fickle beast.

I have memories - blurred only by my vision - of slicing my way through dozens of onions at my station, the tears stinging my eyes. Learning the ridicule of working on a line. Crying, it seems, is never manly, even if it's caused by cebollas.

Yet, these memories ultimately taught me the power of patience, as I watched -- stirring only ever so often -- those onions sweat down and gradually turn into a rich golden brown, their flavor metamorphosing into a true culinary phenomenon.

You see, onions have a lot of sugar locked up inside of them. It takes patience, a lot of time and a bit of skill to coax those sugars into a caramelized delight instead of an uneven burnt mess. 

Fight the urge to stir the pan too often, the onions need contact with the pan to start to turn color. If making caramelized onions, the best tip is to just take your time.   When you do stir them, make sure to get the onions that are less cooked on the bottom of the pan, so they cook evenly.

Paula Deen will rejoice, but butter really is a good friend to caramelizing onions.  Its not necessary, but it can really help.

It takes a lot of onions to make a good amount of caramelized onions. Because of this, I recommend making a good batch at once. 

You can find an appropriate use for caramelized onions with just about anything. I love tossing them with some pasta. I did that here, with italian sausage and spiral pasta. By adding some wilted radicchio  some bitterness was introduced to offset the sweet onions .  
Rotini with Carmelized Onions, Italian Sausage
and Radicchio
Serves: 4 - 6
Total Time: 35 minutes

  • 4 large spanish onions
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil, devided
  • 1 Tbsp butter (optional)
  • 1 pound of whole grain rotini pasta
  • 2 links italian sausage, removed from casing (note: I like spicy for this recipe)
  • ½ head of radicchio, cored and sliced into ½ inch strips
  • ½ cup of pasta water, reserved from cooking pasta
  • 2 oz of fresh goat's cheese, crumbled
  • Chopped Italian Parsley to garnish

1.) Cut the onions in half, and then remove the top and bottom ends. Cut the onions lengthwise into ⅓-inch strips.
2.) In a large saute pan, or a dutch oven over medium heat, add 1 Tbsp of oil. Add the onions, and cook, stirring occasionally. Cook the onions, adding the butter if you'd like, until they start to take on a deep rich, golden color. You may need to drop the heat if they are cooking too quickly. As they grow darker in color you will need to stir them more often. They will cook for about 20 minutes. When caramelized, set aside to cool
3.) Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil, season with 2 Tbsp of salt. Add your pasta and cook for 2 minute shy of the package directions.
4.) Meanwhile, while your pasta is cooking, heat a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add 2 tsp of oil and the sausage. Cook until the sausage is browned, breaking up into pieces with a wooden spoon.
5.) Too the hot pan add your radicchio and cook quickly to wilt the greens. Add your caramelized onions.
6.) Remove your cooked pasta from the pan, reserving ½ cup of pasta water, and add to the saute pan with the sausage and the onions. Toss the mixture to combine, adding the pasta water to create a light sauce.
7.) Add the goat cheese and serve warm, garnishing with chopped parsley.

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