I really wanted to make stuffed onions. Sometimes, you need to make savory, umami-laden, deep, rich comfort food, even when it’s a thousand degrees outside and the thing you want to eat usually requires the use of an oven.
I would have preferred to break my own fingers rather than turn on my oven yesterday, so let me make this abundantly clear: I am not a psychopath. I am not a danger to myself or others. And I did not turn on my oven in the heat.
Stuffed onions are basically roasted onions with other food jammed in them, which then all cooks together to create one harmonious, caramelized flavorsplosion where angels high-five in your mouth. But as I said, ovens not allowed. Instead? Crock pot!
For the longest time I only used my crock pot for warming purposes; I would use it for work events (Sure, I’ll bring the meatballs!) or casual dinner parties (Don’t forget to get yourself some soup!), but for actual cooking? Not so much. But when one wants stuffed onions in the middle of summer, what is…one…to do?
The beauty of this recipe is that you can put practically whatever you want and/or want to get rid of, into it. Have leftover rice from some Chinese food? Put it in there. Is one lonely sausage link hanging around? Go for it. How about that weird half-handful of nuts that’s too small to use anywhere else? Use it here! It’s all good. I sort of tossed in what I had hanging around the house, which was:
- 4 onions
- Half an apple (and I do recommend eating the other half)
- Garlic—two cloves? Three? None? It’s your call
- Large handful arugula, maybe a cup’s worth
- 2 T pine nuts
- 1/2 t each thyme and sage
- Maybe a quarter cup of cheese, if even that much, either cut small or shredded
- 1/3 c Israeli couscous
- 1/2 c water or broth
- 4 dried bay leaves
- Slivers of butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
You want the onions to be nice and plump and roomy, something you can really empty out and stick other bits of food in. Mine were big, slightly larger than my fist, maybe, but nowhere near those giant onions that you could use in a slow-pitch softball game. Cut the tops off of them and then dig out the middle. One website said you should use an apple corer to gut your onions but that’s totally unnecessary, so don’t feel like you have to run out and get one. Another site recommended a melon baller, which would probably do quite nicely. I used my favorite unsung hero of the kitchen, the handy-dandy teaspoon.
One of the blogs I read talked about how long they took to cook; the writer/onion chanteuse said it took five hours for the onions to fully cook on the highest setting her crock pot offered. That? Not acceptable. I might not have had a moment’s concern if I had started the onions earlier in the day but it was approaching 3 in the afternoon and while I don’t mind eating late when I’m on vacation, I don’t want to eat much later than 7 when I’m at home. What to do, what to do? I put the onions on a plate, poured a little water on the bottom of said plate and stuck them in the microwave to steam (or, if you don’t have a microwave, put them in your steamer) for three, four minutes…however long it takes. Check them intermittently; you just want them to get pliant, but not completely squishy. And then you can leave them alone while you take care of the rest of the onions.
You are going to want to put all of those oniony bits back into the onions from whence they came, along with other delicious things. But won’t that create a problem? Won’t there be an overspill of ingredients since you’re taking stuff from one space, adding more stuff to it, and trying to cram the whole thing back into the same space? Isn’t this a volume issue?
Good question. That’s why we need to saute. Sauteing achieves one major goal here (I mean, besides starting the blending of the flavors into one cosmic harmony); it pulls out water. All that steam, all that heat? Water cooking out of the vegetables. So as water cooks out, the veggies shrink and you can put more stuff in. Saute the onions with the apples and garlic for a few minutes first (long enough to see the onions start to soften and turn translucent), then add the thyme and sage. Once that cooks together for a few minutes add the arugula, which will wilt within seconds. And then? Couscous and pine nuts.
Give this a minute to come together and if it starts to look a little dry, pour a tiny bit of water or broth in your pan just to give the stuffing something to hang out in. Right before you’re ready to take this off the heat (the onions are translucent, apples are soft, arugula is wilted, or whatever veggies you choose are cooked to your liking), stir in your cheese. Take a quick taste to see if you need any more salt–depending on the cheese, you might not–and add pepper to taste. Stir again, and then start stuffing.
Seriously, put the nommies in your onions, fill them right to the top. And then put that in the crock pot. Put the half-cup of stock in the bottom of the pot along with your bay leaves. If you have a round crock pot and they don’t all fit in the bottom, that’s OK. They stack. Right before closing up the pot, top each onion with a little slice of butter. For good luck.
Put your pot on high and walk away. You’ve got four hours to kill. Have a nap, do some reading. Go do some Zumba! You’ve got plenty of time.
Four hours later, take them out of the crock pot, and pour the liquid from the bottom of the pot (there should be plenty, since the onions will continue to give off water as they cook) into a small pan. Heat that until it thickens into a lovely gravy, which should maybe take ten minutes. Spoon the onion gravy over said onions and then…
We had this with a little salad, some pickled beets, some sauteed beet greens and for me? The chicken. It. Was. Awesome. Hearty and filling and savory but not overwhelming. Bonus! We made four, so we had leftovers. From a crock pot. Who knew?
p.s. If you feel like roasting, or don’t have a crock pot…
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Arrange onion shells, open sides up, in a 13- by 9- by 2-inch baking pan, then add 1/2cup water and cover pan tightly with foil. Roast onions in middle of oven until tender but not falling apart, 25 to 30 minutes.
Stuff and bake onions:
Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.
Transfer shells to a work surface and pour off water in pan. Fill shells with stuffing, mounding it, and return to pan. Bake stuffed onions uncovered, until heated through, about 25 minutes