Caramelized onions, the MVP in this simple dish
This is something you can make when it seems like there is nothing left to eat in the house. All you really need is any shape of pasta, a couple onions, plain yogurt, dried up bits of bread, salt and olive oil. Optional add-ins might include something green, crushed red pepper flakes and a sprinkle of cheese such as grated Parmesan or crumbled feta.
You could even make it without the yogurt and the breadcrumbs if you had to, though they do add a satisfying creamy tartness and crunch, respectively. Other than the pasta, the only nonnegotiable item in this recipe (if you can even call it that) is the humble onion.
We're talking regular yellow onions, thinly sliced into circles and cooked low and slow in olive oil with a pinch of salt. Keep going until they are deeply caramelized, teetering on the edge of char, a dark golden-brown tangle of sweetness. The color brings with it that compelling fifth taste called umami, described as meatiness or savoriness.
Dark and deeply caramelized onions, charred in spots
Caramelized onions have a million uses: layered into sandwiches or on burgers, stirred into a pot of white beans and greens, scattered over flatbreads or folded into eggs. It's a great thing to do with onions that you might have stockpiled (who, me?) until they are starting to sprout or soften. They even freeze well, should you have any leftovers, though I never have.
Caramelized Onion Pantry Pasta
Makes 3 to 4 servings
- 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- ¾ cup coarse, chunky bread crumbs pulsed in a food processor or bashed with the back of a heavy pot from dry or toasted bread (sub: ½ cup fine breadcrumbs)
- 1½ teaspoons coarse salt, divided, plus more to taste
- 2 large onions, thinly sliced into rounds
- 12 ounces pasta, pretty much any shape except tiny like orzo
- ½ to ¾ cup plain yogurt
- Good pinch crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
- Several handfuls of chopped leafy greens such as spinach or arugula, or herbs such as flat-leaf parsley (sub: 2 cups frozen peas, thawed by putting in colander and draining pasta over peas; or small broccoli florets, lightly steamed), optional
- Freshly grated Parmesan, optional
- In a large skillet or sauté pan set over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and add breadcrumbs with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, 2 to 5 minutes (depending on size of breadcrumbs) until golden brown. Scrape out of pan onto a plate and set aside.
- Wipe out skillet (no need to clean) and set back over medium heat with the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil. Add onion with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are deeply golden brown and caramelized. This can take 30 to 35 minutes. Remove pan with onions from heat when done.
- While onions are cooking, set a large pot of well-salted water on to boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Important: Before draining, make sure to scoop out and reserve about 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid.
- Add hot, drained pasta to the skillet of caramelized onions along with ½ cup of the yogurt, red pepper flakes if using and remaining teaspoon salt. Add ½ cup of pasta cooking liquid and use tongs to toss everything together. Add more yogurt and pasta water as needed to enable yogurt to spread around and coat pasta evenly.
- Toss in green stuff, if using, and taste, adding more salt, crushed red pepper flakes or a little olive oil if needed to balance yogurt acidity.
- Serve topped with fried breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan if using.
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