Weekend before last my daughter and I went to visit the farm with a few other families on the box scheme. It was a bit cold and rainy but fantastic to finally see the farm. The baby pigs were a big hit, the only reason my daughter agreed to go actually. It is safe to say our attempt to plant 2000 broad bean seedlings was less of a thrill; it felt too much like work for her liking. Still, she spent the afternoon on a working farm. We bought some fantastic ham from the farm shop and, even after talking about the connection between the baby pigs we saw and the food in her mouth, she still enjoyed it. Her love of animals makes it difficult, at times, to enjoy meat so I have become adept at vegetarian meals. More on that another time.
We travelled up to the farm with Cat and her children. Cat mentioned her method for storing vegetables, which is brilliant as I find veg storage sometimes problematic. The refrigerator is not often appropriate, or there is not often room. She has an old metal bin, with a lid (well scrubbed, of course), and she wraps the veg in old burlap sacks and stores them outside in the bin. I would imagine that sacks fashioned from old tea towels would work as well? Any other veg storing tips most welcome.
Cat also mentioned a surfeit of onions in one of the overlooked sacks at the bottom of her metal veg bin and requested some onion recipes.
This is quick to make and any old pastry will do here, but I developed this for my (upcoming) vegetarian children’s cookery book, hence the wholesome wholemeal pastry. I used a Le Creuset tarte tatin pan, since this is an upside down pie, like a tatin. If you do not have such a tin (something that can go from hob to oven) there will be more washing up but you can soften the onions in a skillet and then transfer to a cake pan for baking. There is room to use more onions if you like so feel free to pile this high and maybe slice up a few more. Ideal for a light supper or lunch, with some salad or even soup.
2–3 tablespoons oil, olive or vegetable
5–7 large onions, a mix of red and white if you like
a few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves stripped
For the scone crust:
125 g plain flour
125 g wholemeal flour
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
75 g unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into pieces
150 ml milk
An enamel-coated ovenproof frying pan/skillet or a non-stick cake tin
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
In large skillet, combine the oil and onions and thyme and cook over medium heat, stirring only occasionally, until soft and lightly browned, 5-10 minutes. Resist the urge to stir too much to allow them to brown properly; this is where all the flavour comes from. Season well. Set aside while you prepare the dough.
For the scone crust, combine the flours, salt and baking powder in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and work in with your fingertips, rubbing to obtain coarse crumbs. Add the milk and stir to obtain a soft dough (which, if you are accustomed to making plain flour only mixtures, will be slightly heavier due to the wholemeal flour). Transfer to a lightly floured surface and roll out to a round just larger than the diameter of the tin.
Transfer the dough to the pan, tucking it in around the edges to enclose the onions. Make a few slits in the dough to allow steam to escape.
Bake until the dough is firm and cooked, about 20 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes, then turn the pie over and serve, hot or warm.
And here’s another onion recipe. You can use lamb mince or, even better, leftover roast lamb which you grind up in a food processor to mince it. The flavours here are vaguely Greek but different herbs and spices can be used: fresh thyme and parsley and a pinch of allspice instead of the cinnamon, for example. This stuffing is a basic recipe and the meat quantity is approximate; less if fine but more makes it too meaty. Use it to stuff any number of vegetables. There were only 2 courgettes and one red pepper in my box this week, so I’ll be stuffing those with a similar mixture to the one here, using the leftovers from last night’s leg of lamb. I don’t always make it with rice in the pan so feel free to omit that part. You can also combine meat for this stuffing; pork is a good mixer. Vegetarians can use finely chopped mushrooms and/or a cooked pulse, such as lentils.
8 large onions, red or white, or both, peeled but left whole
2-3 tablespoons oil, olive or vegetable
2 garlic cloves, crushed
500 g minced lamb
1 heaped tablespoon tomato concentrate
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons each chopped fresh dill and mint
125 ml dry white wine (or stock)
1 egg, beaten
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
300 g / 1 ½ cups brown rice
To hollow out the onions for stuffing, slice off the tops and bottoms, slicing only very little at the root end so they sit evenly, and a bit more at the top. Using a melon ball tool, or a small spoon, scoop out the insides of the onion, leaving a shell of about 2 layers of the outer onion. It’s not a problem if there is a hole at the onion base. Put the ‘onion balls’ in a food processor and process until finely chopped. Transfer 4 tablespoons of the chopped onions to a large skillet; the remainder can be frozen for use in other recipes. Freeze in small portions for ease of use.
Add 1 tablespoon of the oil to the pan with the onions and cook to soften, 3-5 minutes. Add the lamb, season well, and cook, stirring to break up the meat until cooked, 5-7 minutes.
Stir in the garlic, tomato concentrate, cinnamon, dill, mint and wine and cook, stirring, 2-3 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning; stuffing mixtures should always be very well seasoned or the finished dish will be bland. Remove from the heat and let cool.
Meanwhile, prepare the dish. Pour the rice in an even layer in the bottom of the dish. Brush the inside of the onion shells with oil and sprinkle with salt.
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
When the meat mixture is cool enough to handle, stir in the breadcrumbs and egg, and about 2-3 tablespoons water. The mixture should be soft, but not soupy. Add more water if necessary.
Spoon the mixture into the onion shells, filling all the way to the top, mounding only slightly. Arrange the filled onions in the dish, on top of the rice. When all the onions are filled, brush the outsides with oil. Pour the wine and 2 cups water into the dish.
Bake until the rice is cooked and the onions are browned, 1-1 ½ hours. Keep an eye on the rice and begin testing it after 1 hour baking. You may need to add more water. Serve immediately.
A word about breadcrumbs
If your house is like mine, the end slices from the bread do not get eaten very often. Before I was aware of
food waste issues, I threw them away. But I try not to do that anymore, I now process them in the food processor for breadcrumbs. These can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge, until they go mouldy, but hopefully they’ll get used up beforehand. You can also freeze in small portions.
Breadcrumbs are a very useful ingredient; they are great for making mince mixtures go further, as well as making them lighter, and it is very nice to sprinkle seasoned breadcrumbs on the top of anything you bake in the oven. For seasoned breadcrumbs, mix with fine sea salt, black pepper and a generous pinch of paprika. You may also like to add finely chopped fresh parsley and/or grated Parmesan.