I first want to apologize for this very delayed post! I could not for the life of me find my camera, where all of my photos were stored. Of course, Maggie walked into my kitchen and found it in 5 seconds. So without further ado:
A few weeks ago, my roommates and I decided to throw an autumn-themed potluck dinner as a way to usher in the season and meet one another’s friends. I decided we needed something special for the occasion, something that combined two of my favorite fall foods: apple and pumpkin. The catch: I wanted it to be a savory main dish. I turned to the one vegetable that I knew could harmonize the two ingredients, the onion.
The name “onion” comes from the Latin word unio, meaning “single white pearl.” Onions were likely among the first vegetables ever to be eaten by humans, at least 5000 years ago. Some historians believe that onions originated in central Asia, while point toward Pakistan or Iran. An easily transported food that kept well on long journeys and was easy to grow, onions flourished in various countries across the globe.
Onions are botanical cousins of lilies and garlic. And once again, this story brings us to ancient Egypt. Since onions consist of layers and layers (yes, like ogres, for any Shrek fans out there), they were viewed as symbolic of the afterlife. Egyptians sometimes entombed their mummies with onions. In fact, onion remains have been found in the tombs and burial sites of pharaohs. Ancient Egyptians also used onions to make ointments and medicine. In ancient Greece, Olympians ate onions to build their strength prior to competing in the Olympic games.
American Indians used a wide range of wild onions in their regional cuisines, for medicinal purposes, and some tribes even used the stalks to make mats. Early colonists brought European onion varieties to the New World. America’s first cookbooks, such as Amelia Simmons’ 1796 volume, featured onions in many recipes. Onions experienced a breakthrough in 1925, when botanist Henry Alfred Jones at the University of California discovered a male-sterile onion. This finding meant that Jones could cultivate varieties to suit specific growing conditions, such as altitude, temperature, and soil pH levels.
During World War II, innovations in production made dehydrated onions more available to both consumers in the United States and to troops overseas, who received powdered and dehydrated forms of the vegetable as part of their rations.
Today, onions of all shapes, sizes, and colors are available at grocery stores and markets. The recipe I’ve chosen for today calls for caramelized onions, which have been used in cooking for thousands of years and highlight the bulb’s sweetness.
For future reading:
Bacheller, Barbara. Lilies of the Kitchen. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986.
Griffith, Fred and Linda, “Onions.” The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, ed. Andrew Smith. New York, Oxford University Press, 2007 p. 424-5.
Fall Harvest Pizza
2 envelopes active dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
4 cups whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons cornmeal, plus more for rolling
2 tablespoons buckwheat or wildflower honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 15 oz canned pumpkin
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
6 fresh sage leaves
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 sweet yellow onion
3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 granny smith apple
5 sliced baby bella mushrooms
1) Make the dough: pour lukewarm water into a bowl and float yeast on top for 10 minutes. Combine flour and cornmeal in another bowl.
Slowly add the flour mixture to the water and yeast. Add honey and oil. Knead dough by hand until it is smooth, or use a dough hook with your mixer. Allow dough to rest in a warm, dry place for 1-2 hours. Knead until no longer sticky.
2) Prepare the crust: Separate the dough into 2-3 balls. Roll dough using a rolling pin or hands. Tip: place a small amount of cornmeal at the bottom of each ball of dough to add crunchiness and prevent sticking. You may also coat your hands/rolling pin in flour. Pre-bake the crust for 5 minutes on a baking sheet or pizza stone.
3) Caramelize the onion: Slice onion. Heat 1-2 tablespoons oil in a pan. Add onions. Cook on low heat for 20 minutes, until onions become translucent.
4) Make the sauce: Mix pumpkin, cider vinegar, garlic, nutmeg, and sage.
5) Top pre-baked crust: Spread sauce over crust. Add cheddar cheese. Finish with apple slices, mushrooms, and caramelized onions.
6) Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until cheese melts and crust is golden.