The small victory here is the honest admission about how long it takes to truly caramelize onions. I don’t for the life of me understand why in so many cookbooks and television shows we’re told it takes just 15, or even 5, minutes. The most important ingredient in caramelized onions is time.The sweet reward is a depth of flavor that can’t be imitated by a quick sauté or a bit of color achieved with high heat.My wife, Grace, likes to combine the onions with roasted sweet potatoes and crispy pancetta. A favorite side dish, I ask her to make these all the time.
2 lb [900 g] sweet potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed and cutinto 1/2-in [12-mm] dice
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oilKosher salt
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
4 oz [115 g] pancetta, finely diced
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp dark brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
Preheat your oven to 425°F [220°C]. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Put the sweet potatoes on the prepared baking sheet.Drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt and the red pepper flakes (if using), and toss everything together.Roast the sweet potatoes, stirring a couple of times, until tender and browned, about 45 minutes. Set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the pancetta, stirring, until the fat is rendered and thepancetta is crisp, 5 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon,transfer the pancetta to a bowl and set aside.
Add the sliced onion to the skillet (add a little olive oil if there’s not enough fat in the pan—it will depend on how much fat is in the pancetta, so trust your instincts here). Turn the heat to medium-low and cook the onion, stirring now and then, until the onion has collapsed and is very soft and browned in spots, about 45 minutes. Stir in the brown sugar and vinegar and cook until the liquid has evaporated,about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt.
Add the reserved pancetta and sweet potatoes to the skilletand stir everything together. Serve warm.
FOR A GREAT BITE TO SERVE WITH DRINKS, slather little pieces of toast with ricotta and top with the onion mixture.
FOR AN EASY CHUTNEY, make the onions as directed,and add a handful of golden raisins, a tiny bit of minced peeled fresh ginger, and a chopped tomato along with the brown sugar and vinegar. Let everything simmer for 10minutes.