Acclaimed TV chef, author and ‘culinary explorer’ Valentine Warner has created four bespoke recipes for British Onions. These recipes perfectly encapsulate the versatility of the great British Onion as a key ingredient in cooking.
For the pastry
225g strong plain flour, plus extra for rolling
1 tablespoon icing sugar, plus about 4 teaspoons for baking and extra for dusting
A good pinch of fine sea salt
125ml cold water
2 teaspoons lemon juice
For the onions
4 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 tbls light brown Muscavado sugar
1 tsp flaked sea salt or to taste, less if using other salt
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves stripped from their stalk and roughly chopped
2.5 tbls red wine vinegar
32 anchovies, approx 75g
1. Cut the butter into roughly 2cm pieces and drop it into the flour. Tumble all together until the butter is lightly coated in flour. Mix the water and lemon juice and pour it in. Use a table knife to cut across the bowl several times, chopping the butter into the flour until the dough comes together. When it forms a loose lump, tip it on to a board and quickly shape it into a fat slab.
2. Flour the work surface well and roll out the dough to a rectangle around 35 x 30cm using a well-floured rolling pin. Fold one-third of the dough into the middle and the remaining outer one over this. Press the edges firmly with the rolling pin, then rotate the pastry a quarter turn. And repeat the whole process again. Rolling folding and turning. Don’t worry too much if the butter makes its way through occasionally in the early stages; just keep the board and pin very well floured to prevent the pastry from sticking. Do this 6-7 times. After the last folding stage, wrap the slab in cling film and chill for 1 hour or so.
3. Thinly slice the onions and sweat them over a low to medium heat in the butter with the sugar, salt and thyme. Over the next hour they should colour to a deep golden brown. If they catch a little this is ok but stir them regularly to make sure they do not burn. After an hour pour in the vinegar then cook it out of the onions until evaporated, 10 minutes or so. Turn off the heat and allow the onions to cool.
4. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees
5. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface into a rectangle, approximately the dimensions 25cm by 30cm and to the thickness of 2 stacked 1 pound coins. Lay the pastry on a baking sheet painted lightly with olive oil.
6. Evenly spread the onions across the pastry leaving a tiny uncovered border around the edge of the onion. Lay the anchovies in rows across the onions in a diamond shaped grid pattern. Scatter over the roughly ripped olives and grind over a heavy bombardment of black pepper
7. Lay a sheet of tin foil cut to the size of the pissaladiere on top of the onions then put it in the oven for 30 minutes or until you are satisfied that the pastry is good and crispy. Allow to cool enough not to burn your lips with greedy haste.
1medium red onion, finely diced
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 3 medium limes
6 green olives, sliced into rings (£1 coin thickness)
1 large ripe vine tomato, cored and roughly chopped (medium fine)
1 tbls baby capers from vinegar, rinsed.
1 tbls very small fistful coriander stalks, chopped very fine
Small handful of coriander leaves, (roughly chopped to finish the dish)
2 tsp olive oil
200g fresh sea bass fillet, de-boned with the skin taken off
1 level tsp Maldon sea salt, to taste if using fine salt
3 pepper corns
1 hot green chile, very finely sliced with the seeds left in
1. Bring a small pan of water to the boil with the peppercorns, drop in the onion. Leave the onion in for 30 seconds and drain. Put it in a bowl and immediately squeeze over the citrus juices. They will start to turn the onion electric pink. Add the chopped tomato to the mix with all its seeds and juice. Add all the other ingredients bar the fish and coriander leaves. Check the seasoning
2. Take the bass fillet and thinly slice it diagonally in small bite size pieces about ½ cm thick.
3. Gently place the raw fish in the ceviche mix and let the citrus acid do its work (in effect, to cold cook the fish). It should take about half an hour for the bass pieces to turn opaque. Check the seasoning once more then scatter over a little of the chopped fresh coriander leaves.
4. Serve with good salted tortilla chips and very cold beer.
1.5 tsp caster sugar
12 small button onions
½ handful of whole hazelnuts very roughly chopped
4 slices of thinly sliced pancetta
50g fontina cheese grated (could use mozzarella or even ripe brie or camembert)
Black pepper to season
1. Put the onions in a bowl and steep in boiling water for 5 minutes as this will help to remove the some what fiddly skins. Trim off any whiskers from the root ends and remove their jackets and tops. While the onions soak, dry fry the hazelnuts for approximately 3½ minutes swirling them occasionally over a medium heat until a rich toasted smell comes to the nose and they appear to have darkened a bit in colour. They must be moved around while cooking so they do not burn in one place. Leave to one side.
2. In a small frying pan place the whole onions with 100ml of water, the butter and a dash of sunflower oil. Cover with a lid and bring the liquid up to a gentle simmer and cook the onions like this over a low heat for 15 minutes.
3. Put a separate pan filled with water for the pasta on to boil. It need not be too big as the amount of pasta is small.
4. Remove the lid from the frying pan and when all the water has evaporated turn up the heat a little and fry the softened onions in the remaining butter for 7-8 minutes. Thy onions should be richly coloured and the butter nutty brown but not burnt and smoking. When the onions are deep golden brown add 1½ tsp caster sugar and 2 tsp of balsamic vinegar and swirl the onions around in this until the balsamic has evaporated and the sugar has caramelised and stuck to the onions. Season them generously with salt then turn off the heat.
5. Drop the macaroni in the boiling water and cook for approximately 8 minutes or until firm yet tender but not mushy. Five minutes before the macaroni is ready put the onions back over a medium heat. Push the onions to one side of the pan and with some paper towel wipe the empty pan half clean. Lay the pancetta down. It will not take long to cook, 3 minutes or so. Turn it once and be careful not to burn it. It should be semi crisp with a little bend in it still. While the pancetta cooks turn the onions so they warm through evenly.
6. Drain the macaroni and tip it back into the pot. Pour in the cream and scatter in the cheese. Put the pot back over a low heat and gently fold all together until the cheese has melted. Test the seasoning adding a little salt. Spoon the macaroni between two warm plates. Nestle 6 onions in the middle of the pasta, cut each pancetta slice in 2 and arrange between the onions. Lastly scatter over the hazel nuts. Eat immediately as mountain food is better hot.
For the Ponzu sauce
75ml Mirin, Japanese sweet cooking saki
75 ml good fresh Japanese soy (not Chinese)
About 50ml lemon juice
2 inch piece of Khombu seaweed
For the onions
2 medium onions, peeled and very finely sliced
Mild and light olive oil or sunflower oil for deep fat frying (around 2 litres)
For the batter
4 tbsp plain flour
4 tsp corn flour
4 tbsp sesame seeds
Good pinch flaked sea salt
1 large egg
75ml well chilled fizzy water
1. Pour the mirin into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Then turn down the heat and over a low simmer cook out the alcohol for 2 minutes. Pour in the soy sauce and add the lemon juice. Under the tap rinse off the fine sea salt on the kombu, and pop it in the sauce. Put the ponzu in the fridge and let the flavours combine for half an hour or so.
2. For the onions, heat the oil in a deep fat fryer or sauce pan to 180C.
3. In a large bowl, mix the plain flour, corn flour, sesame seeds and salt. Drop the egg into the middle and slowly add the water while whisking lightly with a balloon whisk. The batter should only be mixed just enough to incorporate the ingredients, any little lumps of flour are fine left as they are
4. Peel the onion and cut into very fine sliced rings. Drop the onion rings into the batter and toss all together until thoroughly but lightly coated in a loose tangle.
5. When the oil is at the correct temperature lift a small bundle of the onion rings with long handled metal tongs and lower them carefully in. Add 2 more bundles in exactly the same way. Cook the onions for about 2 minutes until crisp and golden, turning once.
6. Transfer the tempura onions to a plate lined with kitchen paper using tongs. Leave to drain and stay warm in a low oven while you fry the rest or eat them immediately and wait for more.
Serve with the ponzu dipping sauce
Why not try some of these recipes? For further information on British Onions please visit www.britishonions.co.uk