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Five ideas for cooking with caramelized onions: dip, quesadillas, pasta and more

If you want to add sweetness to a dish: sugar. If you want to add a little savory: butter. If you want both: caramelized onions. • Caramelizing onions takes a some sweat and a lot of patience. Making them in big batches helps for future recipes and can shave off an hour of cooking time. I recommend taking an afternoon and caramelizing as many onions as your nose (and family) can stand. Once these yummy thin ribbons cool to room temperature, throw them in airtight bags in half-cup quantities and store in your freezer. That way you can defrost and throw them on salads, pizzas, sandwiches, burgers and use them in the recipes below.


Quesadillas are quick and customizable. This is my go-to cheesy pocket. Heat your griddle skillet on medium-high heat and spray with a little nonstick spray. Place a tortilla on the skillet and sprinkle with 1 cup cheddar cheese. Then, layer ½ cup black beans, ¼ cup of your favorite chunky salsa and ¼ cup caramelized onions. Let the quesadilla cook open for a few minutes, then fold it in half to close; cook for a minute on that side, then flip to the other side and let it cook for another minute or until desired doneness. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, guacamole and salsa.


Sandwiches make great lunches, but this one is fancy — and filling — enough for dinner. Start with ½ cup cherry tomatoes and place them on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Stick them under your broiler for a few minutes until they start to wilt and split slightly. Leave the broiler on for later. Cut a loaf of ciabatta bread in half to make 2 sandwiches, then slice open. Brush the slices with 1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin oil and lightly toast in the broiler or toaster. Now it's time to assemble: Layer with ½ cup reserved caramelized onions, ½ cup arugula, prosciutto strips and Brie wedges. Then stick the sammies back under the broiler just for a few minutes, until the Brie starts to gloriously melt. Don't forget about those tomatoes. Place them on top and serve. Recipe from


Bacon and caramelized onions: a tasty romance in your mouth. This tart makes a perfect appetizer for any dinner party. First, cook 6 ounces of bacon in a skillet on medium-high heat until crisp, about 12 minutes. Remove bacon and pour its fat into a 9-by-11 baking dish and set aside. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk 1 ½ cups flour, 2 teaspoons dried mustard, 1 ¼ cups milk and 3 eggs. Let the batter rest for 10 minutes. Place the baking dish with bacon fat in the oven and heat for 10 minutes. Remove the dish, pour in batter and sprinkle with bacon and 1 cup reserved caramelized onions. Return dish to oven and bake until puffed and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Recipe from


This dish serves up autumn in a pan. The tang of crispy but tender Brussels sprouts pairs perfectly with the sweet onions and cranberries. Cut 4 slices of bacon into ½-inch pieces and fry on medium heat in a skillet until bacon is crisp, about 7 minutes. Remove from skillet and set aside. Trim and chop 2 cups Brussels sprouts in half. Increase skillet heat to medium-high and arrange sprouts cut-side down, until they begin to crisp and brown on the cut side, about 2 minutes. Add ½ cup reserved caramelized onions and stir to combine. Add 1 cup chicken broth, ¼ cup dry vermouth and ½ cup coarsely chopped dried cranberries; stir and bring to a fast simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium and cook until the sprouts soften, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cook 6 ounces of fettuccine until just al dente, reserving ¼ cup of the cooking water. Transfer pasta to the skillet containing the Brussels sprouts and toss continuously over medium-high heat for an additional 1 or 2 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed. (If pasta is too dry, add reserved cooking water a tablespoon at a time.) Season with salt and pepper and serve garnished with Parmesan cheese and that delicious bacon. Serves 2 to 4. Recipe from


This dip is a huge hit among my friends, and I always double or even triple the recipe. Caramelizing the onions as you make this recipe is best because all the ingredients get mixed in the same pan, so you get every bit of flavor. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add 3 cups chopped yellow onions and 4 minced garlic cloves to pan and saute 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook 40 minutes or until very tender and caramelized, stirring occasionally. Add ½ cup (4 ounces) block-style cream cheese to pan and stir to combine. Remove from heat; stir in ½ cup mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives, ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt. Serve at room temperature or chilled with salty chips or crostini. Recipe from Cooking Light's "The New Way to Cook Light" by Scott Mowbray and Amy Taylor Pittman (Oxmoor House, 2012).

How to caramelize onions

Caramelizing is a slow process that draws out the sugars in onions. Many recipes tell you it'll only take 20 minutes to a get a good caramelized onion, but don't be fooled. There is no quick and easy way to perfectly caramelize these delicious ribbons without risking burnt, gummy, bland or greasy results. And cranking the heat up won't make the process go any faster. This recipe from Cook's Illustrated has never failed me. Here are tips before you get started:

There are four types of onion: red, white, yellow and sweet (Vidalia). You'd think the sweet onions, having 25 percent more sugar in them, would be the best, but yellow onions have the best flavor.

Don't pack the pan. Two pounds of onions yields about 1 cup of caramelized onions. Before caramelized, 5 raw medium onions equal 1 pound, which makes 2-3 cups chopped or sliced.

Don't overstir. The trick is to leave the onions alone long enough for them to brown, but not burn. After the first 20 to 30 minutes, as they cook down, you'll need to scrape the bottom of the pan every few minutes, until the onions are rich and brown.

Caramelized onions

Chop 2 pounds large yellow onions. Slice the root end off each onion, halve it, then cut into ¼-inch-thick slices across the grain.

Heat 1 tablespoon unsalted butter and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. When foam subsides, stir in ½ teaspoon table salt and 1 teaspoon light brown sugar.

Add sliced onions and stir to coat; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to soften and release some moisture, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are deeply browned and slightly sticky, about 40 minutes longer. If onions are sizzling or scorching, reduce heat. If onions are not browning after 15 to 20 minutes, raise heat. Off heat, stir in 1 teaspoon water. Season to taste with pepper.

To store: Let them cool to room temperature, then transfer to airtight container and refrigerate for up to 7 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Makes 1 cup.

Five ideas for cooking with caramelized onions: dip, quesadillas, pasta and more 10/12/15 [Last modified: Monday, October 12, 2015 12:51pm]
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