Saturday, February 6, 2010

Savory onion pie and a quick cookbook review

One of the unexpected benefits of Dana getting a job at the library is that she's constantly surrounded by cool books that she can take home. In fact there's a whole system in place to facilitate that very thing. (From my understanding it works okay but I'm not sure this whole book lending thing is going to catch on.) Her first week there she was shelving fiction and ended up coming home with some awful Pride and Prejudice meets sexy vampires book. This had no discernible benefits for anyone, no matter what she says. Last week, though, the process totally came through. On her way out of the library, she had stopped off at the desk to check out two awesome cookbooks: Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess and Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques, the cookbook from which the hazelnut brown butter cake recipe originated.

Sunday Suppers at Lucques is a visual feast, heavy glossy pages literally (figuratively) drooping with the weight of the exquisite food photography and deliciously typeset recipes. It's really a gorgeous book, well put together and considerable, but I paged all the way through it twice before I realized that it didn't make me want to cook. Sure, the brown butter cake was good -when Dana made it but I feel that that recipe was a good indication of the book's direction. That cake was an all-day affair, both in its preparation and--I think more importantly--its consumption. It was good but it was not the sort of thing you eat two slices of in a sitting. I liken it to taking weary steps up an unscaled mountain. Every step and every forkful are something new--I hesitate to say a revelation because I don't mean the word's more ecstatic connotations, but maybe exploration?--but each is just so damn exhausting that you're not anxious to rush into the next one. The food here, like the cake, is complex, dense in flavor if not texture, and despite the impression I got from the book's name, not cuisine I would want to spend a Sunday putting together. I'm sure the book has its devotees, a quick peek at the Amazon reviews certainly indicate so, but for me there's a missing link here between the potential of the recipes--which is great, apparently--and the enthusiasm and motivation necessary to follow them to an end. Every successful cookbook--actually, at this point, even every fiction book that stays planted on our shelves--must inspire just as much as it instructs. With the proper inspiration, I'll gladly, ecstatically spend a whole weekend putting dinner on the table, but I'm just not getting that. We have the book a couple more weeks. I'll let you know if anything changes.

The great success for us was Nigella Lawson's book. As I was finding myself decreasingly rapt with Lucques, Dana was becoming noticeably enamored with the tone of this book which is often just as no-nonsense, biting, and hilarious as Dana herself. The first recipe we tried from it was this Supper Onion Pie which had four red onions caramelized atop a simple scone dough. Easy and simple, but so tasty and incredibly photogenic.

Supper Onion Pie
from Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess

for the filling/topping
  • 4 medium red onions
  • 1Tbsp olive oil
  • 1Tbsp butter
  • 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried
  • 5 ounces sharp cheddar cheese or Gruyere, grated
for the scone dough
  • 1-2/3 cups AP flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 tsp dry English mustard (we left this out because we didn't want to go out to the store for it)
  • 1 large egg, beaten

Butter a 9-inch pie plate or 8-10 inch cast iron skillet and preheat the oven to 400F.

Peel the onions, halve them, then cut each half into 4 segments each. Heat the oil and butter in the pan, then add the onions and cook over a medium heat, stirring regularly, for about 30 minutes. For me, they were meltingly soft and gorgeously colored. Season with salt and pepper and add the thyme. Turn into your prepared pie dish and scatter 2 ounces of the cheese over the waiting onions.

Meanwhile, put the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl with the remaining cheese. Pour the milk into a measuring cup, add the melted butter, mustard (if using), and egg. Mix well and then pour onto the flour mixture in the bowl. Mix to a dough using a fork, a wooden spoon, or your hands; it should be quite sticky. Then tip it out onto a work surface and press into a circle about the size of the pie dish. Transfer it to the dish and press to seal the edges.

Put it in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn down to 350F and give it another 10. The dough should be golden and crisp on top. Let it stand for a couple of minutes then run a knife along the inside edge of the pie plate, place a plate over it and invert. Ours needed a little convincing but eventually plopped out beautifully onto a platter.

Nigella suggests serving with a brown sauce but we just dug straight in and it was heavenly. Your mileage may vary, though. Especially steer clear if you're not a huge onions fan like I am. If you are, though, it's hard to beat this for a low stress vegetarian dinner and some gorgeous photo ops.


Yesica N. Cook said...

Looks fabulous! Just made Jamie Oliver's onion soup a couple of days ago - we Brits do love onions! Have always been too grouchy re old Nigella's goddessiness to give her a a try, but if you guys like her...

The Hayward House said...

Yum! This may make it to our breakfast table....

Madura said...

that book was amazing. so many good recipes. i missed that one. will try it. glad it worked out for you.

The Hayward House said...

We finally tried this recipe, and it is now a regular entree for guests!