“Tofu and the Thousand Incredible Onions”

My grandmother tells a story about her first husband, my late grandfather, James Roberts, who asked her for an onion pie. She had never heard of anything like that, nor had her research into the subject yielded any results.

To round up for excitement and intrigue, half a century later, she would tell me this story and I’d wonder.

Today, I find myself with a bunch of onions and the task to get rid of them. And one lonely pie crust leftover from last week’s foray (which turned out great, thank you very much [I regret not writing down the pizza sauce recipe since it took all of… 3mins to make, so the perfect accompaniment for houses with no-good kids]).

Oh, and some tofu, though its role is very under-storied in this. I feel, almost like the tofu should be known, but just kinda not mentioned, since if this dish is going to be healthy in any way, it’s through it.

And there’s a bunch of cheese in the fridge, too.

As a simple man, since my grandmother told me that she had never found a recipe, I never bothered to search for one. I guess two things come to mind in the idea of an onion pie – 1) a meaty, beefy thing like a Shepard’s pie, (or exactly that), exclusively featuring shreds of beef and onion in some sort of gravy… 2) like a cheesy pot pie, although as much as I’d like to try for this route, I don’t know how much dough I have (it’s defrosting now) or what I’ll cook in. As a vegetarian, I’ll rule out the beef version.

I’m a big fan of onions. As an aromatic or stock, they certainly do a lot for the food world, but it’s rare to see them take centerstage. I mean, there are a few exceptions: the onion soup, the caramelized onion, onion jam, the Bloomin’ Onion, etc. and some of those tricks I’ll be using to craft this thing.

I don’t have a recipe, just a very vague scheme and about 7-8 medium-small yellow onions.

“ But what about the tofu?” I know someone is going to ask. Well, I have the idea to take it, squish it to get the water out, and then blend it with milk (2%) and/or sherry wine, and/or apple cider vinegar. I’ve done this before, to make the tofu bread (which is part of my own legend) and I already know I’ll need to use the food processor and work in small batches. Will I measure anything? No.

That mixture is what the cheese will be added to once the onions are settled in the crust. The whole mess just poured over let to settle… I don’t know how I’m going to work that. I would think the tofu would thicken the milk, but I need enough “liquid” for the cheese to melt into. It’s why I’ve also considered the sherry wine, a nod to fondue. Onions are already sweet though, so the real trick is to balance that without going too far. It’s not dessert. A mix of milk and wine would be great, but they don’t behave so well together, though I could try for evaporated milk since the dish itself is served warm.

Yes, the tofu is only there so all the proteins necessary for a complete meal are present. My goal is to use as much of that as possible… And I’m trying to find some kind of “anything else” that I can put in there to give it some color, since caramelized onions aren’t very pretty. I’m going to caramelize the onions first, tastefully (< meaning with a little butter), and since there are a lot, it will take a long time. I don’t have any frozen spinach, but as much as I like the stuff, I don’t think it has a place here. It’s a nice celebration of earth, in the onion sense. Adding spinach might be too earthy. However, its bitterness would act as a nice counter.

I’m leaping ahead of myself. It’s a pie – caramelized onions (cooked with spices and oil/butter and the vinegar) will be most of the filling, the tofu-cheese-milk the stuff that holds it together. It sounds so weird to put it that way, but these are the things I have. I’d rather not go to the store, there’s plenty of stuff to make this work.

I should actually write a follow-up, too, so if it turns out to be anything great, a wonky achievement of several different cooking techniques (all haphazardly ignored even as they’re thrown together!), it can then have a chance to turn into something real.

Perhaps after it’s all done, I’ll see if there’s already a recipe out there and see how close I was. I imagine the beef version would be a bit different. With the meat in there to give some body to the pie, you could do thin slices of onion, like an apple, and they’d cook well enough in all the rest of that stuff.

I really don’t have any idea what I’m up against. If I can do the pot pie, I might just make a simple roux into a thick cheese sauce that’ll hold everything in place after the pie has been cut. Letting it rest after it’s done baking will help there, too.

I’ve made plenty of cheese sauces, so this won’t be any trouble. I do have some shiitake mushrooms, which aren’t as earthy as spinach, though I could totally celebrate that earth feel and get some broccoli in there. I have some. I could puree cauliflower with the tofu.

It’s becoming less a legendary existent pie than it is a way to clean out the refrigerator and cupboard.

And I know I’m not explaining this very well, because I won’t know what I’m doing until I’ve gotten organized in the kitchen and then my thoughts will fall into place. In the simplest sense think – fondue + tofu + caramelized onions + pie crust + bake. It doesn’t seem hard.

It would be easier still to just add bacon to the whole thing, it would taste enough like the pasta carbonara my grandmother loves, it would be an easy victory. But, I couldn’t eat it and I missed out on the breakfast strata at church this morning, so it would be nice to have something resembling that. Vegetarians need comfort food, too!

The onions will shrink by about 1,ooo% by the time they’re done caramelizing, so having other ideas for filler will be handy. The more I’ve written about it, the more I like the central “earth” theme, but I’ll have to see what I can do.

I refuse to go to the store! That should be enough to keep me focused on getting rid of what I have.

I don’t know if this helped me straighten out or not.

-j.

4 responses to ““Tofu and the Thousand Incredible Onions”

  1. Was your late grandfather of Italian descent by chance? My great-aunt used to make Calzone di Cipolla (Onion Pie) for us about once a week. Your recipe sounds like it would be really yummy.

    • No, he was a Brit, through and through, as far as I (currently) know. But, he was well-traveled and it’s not unlikely he heard or tried something like you describe.

      Having seen that, I’ll probably look that up, too, because if it’s a staple somewhere, then it could be where the idea started.

      Either way, thanks for the comment, I’ll be looking that up for my own notes!

      • Heh, from what I’ve seen of pics and recipes, I was way off, but it turned out all right. I plan to re-tackle dish, armed with recipes and know-how as well as an empty fridge so I’m not tempted to put everything I see in there.

        The tofu blends nicely with a little extra liquid (after pressing excess out) and it makes a thick paste that can be put in anything, I’d imagine.

        But back to the point, I like the tradition behind the “calzone di cipolla” so it’s definitely a recipe I’ll learn more about and tinker with.

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