I picked up 20 pounds of Walla Walla onions last week–an annual perk from our bank. This gift comes every year in July but receiving the postcard inviting me to reserve my bags of onions never fails to feel like a huge windfall. Since the season for this sweeter variety of onions is fleeting (the onions grow in a low sulfur soil area lending to their sweetness and in turn a shorter shelf life) I try to enjoy the onions in as many dishes as I can. There’s really no need to cook them at all–their sweetness and crisp texture makes them a delight as is–but 2o pounds leaves a lot of room for experimentation.
Walla Walla onions are grown primarily in the Pacific Northwest and are actually a different strain of onion than the ordinary yellow and white onions that are available in our markets year round. The sweet onion seeds were brought to the Walla Walla valley by a soldier from the French island of Corsica (one of my favorite places, ever) in the late 1800s. Italian immigrant farmers liked their mild, sweet flavor and their winter hardiness and started growing them. They have been grown on small farms between the Columbia and Snake Rivers and the Blue Mountains since.
Over the last few days these sweet onions have made their way into almost every meal. They’ve been added mostly to salads but I’ve pickled several of them, too. In a couple of days I will be able to enjoy the batch with sandwiches and even more salads.
For Sunday night dinner I decided on one of my go-to onion preparations: caramelizing them. Slow cooking already sweet onions makes them almost like candy after being on the stove for a half hour. I originally had in mind to prepare a pissaladiére, a French onion tart with caramelized onions, garlic, olives and anchovies but I had pizza dough that needed to be used. I rounded out the ingredients with other items I already had at home–feta cheese, sage and of course anchovies (I meant to add olives, too, but forgot). This pizza still maintains some of the elements of a classic pissaladiére but I made it my own and I was very happy with the outcome.
I’m not embarrassed to admit that my pizza dough came from Trader Joe’s. I used to make my own (a great recipe from Mario Batali) but when I read a recommendation from one of my pizza books that the TJ’s version is also good, I’ve used it since. Feel free to make your own and if you have pointers on how to make a super-thin crust, I’m all ears. That might be the only reason I’d go back to making my own pizza dough again. Feel free to omit the anchovies if they’re not your thing but I really like them in pizzas. Their saltiness offers a nice balance to the sweet onions here. The sage leaves crisp up a bit in the oven and lend a bit of freshness to the deep flavor of the aforementioned two ingredients and the feta cheese. A final drizzle of olive oil before serving and a carafe of wine on the side, I had a wonderful bistro-style dinner.
- 1 recipe pizza dough (I used Trader Joe's; one bag makes two personal pizzas. Feel free to make your own)
- 3 onions, sliced
- Fresh sage leaves (as many as you want)
- Feta cheese (as much or as little as you want)
- Anchovies (about 2-3 per pizza but you can leave out if you like)
- Olive oil
- kosher salt, to taste
- Prepare your pizza dough or if you are using store-bought like I am, take the TJ's dough out of the bag and let it rest on a lightly-floured surface for about a half hour before you divide it and roll it out. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. If you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven as you preheat it, on the middle rack.
- While the dough rests and the oven preheats, prepare the caramelized onions. Heat 2-3 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook over medium heat for about 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally until they're deep brown and caramelized. I added a pinch or two of kosher salt 5 minutes before I turned off the heat. If you find that medium heat is not evaporating the liquid from the onions quickly enough, raise the heat to medium high. This will yield about 1½ cups of cooked onions so you'll have a little extra for other dishes.
- To prepare the pizza, divide your dough in two and roll out with a rolling pin (or press by hand). Transfer to a pizza peel sprinkled with corn meal and arrange the toppings on the dough.
- Begin by brushing olive oil to the top of the dough then add one layer of caramelized onions. Sprinkle some feta cheese then add the anchovies and scatter the sage leaves on top.
- Transfer the pizza to the pizza stone and bake for 12-15 minutes until the edges are golden. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil before serving.