Home cooking: Wonderful onions

November 11, 2009

Who doesn't love the smell of onions cooking?

Onions can be used in many different ways. This is a wonderful side dish for many entrees - poultry, pork, beef, even white, mild fish.

My family has enjoyed it for decades as a holiday and special occasion side dish. The layers of sliced onions are baked in a white sauce flavored with cheddar cheese and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs. No one in my family knows where this recipe originated; my mother, Betty Jane Snyder, started making it more than 40 years ago.

There's also a funny family story that goes with this dish. One day in the early 1970s when my mother was making it, two FBI agents knocked on the door. They were looking for a man who had a sister with the same name as my sister. The agents soon figured out that my sister was not the right person.


But they knew that they had kind of shaken up my mom. After all, how often does the FBI come knocking on your door? As they left, one of them said, "I don't know what you're cooking, but it sure smells good in here." From then on, this dish has been known in our family as the "FBI Onions."

- Joyce Summers

Onions au gratin

4 cups mild white or yellow sweet onions sliced 1/4 inch thick and quartered (see cook's note)
2 tablespoons water
Cooking spray

For the sauce

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk (see cook's note)
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated

For the breadcrumb topping:

2 slices good-quality white bread, torn into quarters.
2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature, cut into quarters

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray 8-inch-by-8-inch baking dish, and place onions in dish. Add 2 tablespoons water. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Drain onions, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid. Return onions to baking dish.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in 2 tablespoons flour, salt and pepper. Cook 1 minute, until smooth and bubbly. Remove the saucepan from the heat, and gradually add the milk, whisking lightly until smooth. Return to heat and cook until thickened, smooth and bubbly. Add cheddar cheese and reserved liquid from onions. Stir until cheese has melted. Pour sauce over onions.

Place bread pieces in small food processor and pulse 8 to 10 times until fine crumbs have formed. Add butter and pulse 6 to 8 times, until butter is incorporated into the bread crumbs. Spread buttered breadcrumbs on top of onions. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.

This dish can also be made a day ahead and refrigerated. Do not top with the breadcrumbs until ready to bake. Remove from refrigerator 30 to 45 minutes before baking. Increase baking time by 5 minutes.

Cook's note: Two to 3 large onions sliced and quartered should make 4 cups. The sauce can be made with milk of any butterfat content. Skim milk works fine.

Serves 6 to 8.

- Submitted by Joyce Summers, personal chef and owner of Dinner's On! Personal Chef Service, Frederick, Md.

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