Ingenious onion hack allows quicker risottos

Time is always nipping at your heals these days, and cooking with onions isn’t always so forgiving. Sometimes, the clock makes all the difference in the outcome of a great dish.

Culinary instructor KateLynn Dunning, who teaches cooking at Platt College in Tulsa, Okla., has ways around the often time-consuming onion in some of her favorite dishes.

“We professional chefs rely on onions. Onions are in our base for everything — stocks, sauces, soups. Everything I teach my students to sauté starts with minced onions and garlic. I meal-prep every week at home and dice at least 3 large yellow onions and 1 head of garlic just to have on hand so when I cook during the week days, that is already done.”

Dunning has devised the ultimate onion hack with her “Onion Butter” recipe, which she uses to prepare for cooking classes that cannot take the time it takes, for example, to sauté onions in butter for risotto or pilafs.

“Sometimes … line cooks or students will not sauté the onions enough, making for crunchy onions in risottos,” Dunning said. And that’s not good.

Dunning suggests prepping ahead of time by poaching onions in butter for 1-2 hours until transluscent, allowing for a nice purée in the blender. Freeze for anytime cooking. Cooks can use 1- 2 tablespoons of the frozen mixture and use in a pot to sauté short grain rice (for risotto), long grain rice (for pilaf), lentils, quinoa, farro — any grain that typically is sautéed with onions and butter before adding a liquid, Dunning says.

“This cuts production time, and it allows a more mellow onion flavor that is close to caramelization but delicate,” Dunning says.

Try it!

Onion Butter

2-3 cups minced onion (small dice is also acceptable)

1 cup butter

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Melt butter on low heat. Add onions, salt, and turn down heat. Slowly poach onions for 1-2 hours until translucent and falling apart. Puree in blender until smooth. Freeze and it will become solid in the refrigerator.



1 Tablespoon of premade onion butter

1 cup Arborio rice

1/2 cup of White Wine (NOT cooking wine; drinking wine)

3 cups of chicken stock

4 Tablespoons butter

4 Tablespoons Parmesano Reggiano (splurge and use the good stuff, TRUST ME)



Melt onion butter on medium-high heat. Toast rice in hot butter. Do not burn or let turn brown, just until the kernel has a bright, white pearl in the center with a translucent outside. Add wine and reduce to “au sec” or “almost dry.” It will look think and syrupy in the pan. Add the stock one cup at a time. Reduce the stock to au sec while storing before adding the second cup of stock. After the third addition reduces to au sec, turn off heat and stir in cold butter and Parmesan cheese.

Dunning offers some other helpful onion hacks:

  • She likes to make up some sofrito a Latin version of “mirepoix” or “trinity.” Sofrito is 50 percent onions, 25 percent peppers, 25 percent tomatoes diced. It can be combined and held in a Tupperware dish or Ziplocs and added by the tablespoon for any salsas, Latin soups, enchilada sauces, mole, etc. Store up to a week in the refrigerator; do not freeze.


  • “White Mire Poix” is fun because it’s so similar to mire poix with an air of elitism, Dunning says. It is 25 percent onions, 25 percent leeks, 25 percent celery (or celery root), and 25 percent parsnips. It’s meant to not add color to your stocks, sauces, soups, and bases if you want them to remain white and “delicate.” This will last up to a week in the refrigerator.



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There is a pain-free way to cut onions

While the best part about onions is the flavor they infuse into any dish, for many, getting there is quite the battle.

Cutting onions could be one of the most dreaded jobs in the kitchen — perhaps besides stirring a big bowl of stiff chocolate chip cookie dough. Sometimes, however, the ends DO justify the means.

Cutting onions doesn’t have to be so bad. Try the tips in this blog to reduce the tears.

American columnist Elizabeth Robbins Pennell said it best: “Banish (the onion) from the kitchen and the pleasure flies with it. Its presence lends color and enchantment to the most modest dish; its absence reduces the rarest delicacy to hopeless insipidity, and dinner to despair.”

Being loaded with all sorts of good nutrients, cancer fighting agents and great flavor additions doesn’t come without its hitches. For the onion, the sulfur compounds within it mix with its alliinase enzymes, which brings on the tears. Each type of onion has a different concentration of these sulfur compounds, making their tear-inducing sting a bit different.

There are ways to reduce those tears — unless you really just need to let it all out and have a good cry.

Here are some basic tips to help you out:

» First, chill your onions at least 30 minutes before cutting them. Refrigeration will slow down the chemical reactions. Carucci advises a couple of options: grabbing the all-important goggles for those large jobs; and storing onions at refrigerator temperature. That’s a tip from Robert L. Wolke, author of What Einstein Told His Cook. He stated that an “an onion at refrigerator temperature causes tearing only 25 percent as quickly as an onion at room temperature.” Couldn’t hurt to try. And for one more option, Carucci has known people to hold a piece of bread in their mouths while chopping onions to deflect the fumes.

» Be sure to use a sharp, straight-edge knife when cutting onions. That minimizes onion cell damage, thus creating fewer tear-producing compounds.

» Finally, cut the root end of the onion last, as it generally has the highest concentration of tear-producing compounds.

There are several ways to cut an onion.

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How to eat your 22 pounds a year in onions

If you hadn’t heard, Americans on average eat about 22 pounds of onions per person per year. That kind of onion consumption helps keep a body healthy by providing necessary vitamins and nutrients to ward off heart disease and cancers and also keep the gut working at optimum speed.

An easy way to get your 22 pounds a year in is this: for one week a month, buy 2 pounds of onions (that’s roughly 4 onions in your cart). Mix them up by color, keep them all the same — every onion is good for you. Since cut onions have a refrigerator shelf life of about seven days, you can be rest-assured you will not have to waste anything if you set out a good plan. (This also is a great way to incorporate clean eating into your routine).

For that one week, use your onions strategically to use all of them and reduce spoilage, and get the vital nutrition your body needs.

First, halve one onion. Dice one half to add and store in the refrigerator. Use small doses of diced onions throughout the week to add spice and flavor to omelets or frittatas or tacos or salads.

Get your 22 pounds of onions in each year with a strong strategy.

Take the other half and slice up for your lunchtime sandwiches. Onion slices go great with deli roast beef and turkey.

Use the second onion to make a wonderful Basil, Walnut and Onion Pesto, which will go great on those lunchtime sandwiches as a spread, or with crackers for an afternoon or evening snack.

This Basil, Walnut Onion Pesto is a great addition to sandwiches.

The third and fourth onions can easily be incorporated into dinners. Cooking two full meals for the week will give plenty of leftovers for the rest of the week to minimize your time in the kitchen. A couple of dinner ideas include Turkey and Onion Meatball Kabobs or High Protein Quinoa Salad

Or, go simple. Cut your fourth onion into large chunks and sautée with red or green peppers to garnish your protein (chicken, shrimp or steak).

Cut large chucks of onions and peppers, and sauté for a good addition to any protein.

Two pounds of onions, massive amounts of flavor and all the protection your body needs to keep it healthy — in just one week.


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Save time on grilling onions this Labor Day

Onions are the essential ingredient in every chef’s recipe box but they can add some time to your cooking schedule. This Labor Day, you probably want a little more time with friends and less at the grill.

We love onions as much as you do and with the help of our cooking pros, we have plenty of onion cooking hacks to share that save time without sacrificing the use of onions as a staple ingredient that builds flavor in all of your favorite recipes.

As you prepare for Labor Day festivities, Linda Carucci, culinary instructor and author of Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks, offers her favorite onion hack on the grill.


Grilled Onions

Foolproof grilled onions add exponential flavor—and panache—to a juicy grilled hamburger. And they’re tender enough not to shimmy out of place when you bite into the burger.

“One of the things I have found that saves times and cleverly transforms the onion slice on a burger, for example, is the trick of microwaving the slices before I grill them,” Carucci says.

In her book, Carucci advises to skewer each slice of onion with two toothpicks (at 3 and 6 o’clock on the clock face) to hold the onion layers in place.


After removing the skins, skewer each onion slice with two perpendicular toothpicks. Round toothpicks are easiest to work with here. To soften the onions before they hit the grill, arrange the slices in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate, then microwave them for three minutes.


Then she microwaves them.

“Place the onions on a microwave-safe plate and microwave them on high for 3 minutes to cook partially. (Or, steam on a steamer rack above boiling water for 5 minutes),” she advises. “Brush both sides of the onions with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Then grill them, turning as necessary until they are soft and golden brown on both sides, about 10 minutes tota

You’ll find the complete recipe for Grilled Red Onions and lots more helpful tips and techniques in Linda Carucci’s Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks, named a Washington Post Best Cookbook of 2016.


Place the oiled and seasoned onion slices on the grill and cook, turning occasionally, until grill marks appear.

Try Carucci’s trick on the National Onion Association’s recipe for

Grilled Onion Cheeseburgers


2 pounds ground beef
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 large yellow or white on ions, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
1-2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
4 white or whole wheat hamburger buns, or Kaiser rolls, split
3 ounces crumbled or shredded cheese (blue cheese, smoked mozzarella, goat cheese, feta, etc.)*


Combine ground beef, thyme and garlic in medium bowl, mixing lightly but thoroughly. Lightly shape into eight 1/2-inch thick patties.

Follow Carucci’s tips above for preparing sliced onions.

Place patties and onions slices on grill over medium, ash-covered coals. Grill patties, uncovered, 11-13 minutes to medium (160 degrees F) doneness until no longer pink in center and juices show no pink color, turning occasionally.

Add desired cheese to burgers about 1 minute before removing from grill. Place cheese-topped burgers on bottom of each bun and top with 1/2 of grilled onions. Close sandwiches. Cover and refrigerate remaining 4 burgers and onions to use in “Meatballs” & Pasta with Grilled Onions & Fresh Tomato Sauce.
Makes 4 servings.
Total preparation and cooking time: 35 to 45 minutes

*Any type of sliced, shredded or crumbled cheese may also be used to top burgers. We suggest cheddar, Swiss, provolone, gouda, blue cheese, smoked mozzarella, goat cheese or feta.

Special notes

Recipe and image provided by the National Onion Association.

Onion hack and images copyright Linda Carucci, Permission granted for use in this National Onion Association blog at

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Onions can be the star of any show — behind the curtain

The best thing about onions is that they can be the star of the show without anyone knowing it. We are aware that there are a few people who don’t prefer the texture of onions, but this sweet onion pesto is proof that you don’t have miss out on the onion’s tasty flavor! Sautéing onions makes them rich, sweet, and soft, allowing them to blend into this savory treat.

Onion pesto recipe

This Basil, Walnut and Sweet Onion Pesto is a great way to infuse onions’ flavor and nutritional attributes into the diet.


While not everyone likes onions, not everyone has tasted the variety of ways an onion can be cooked. In fact, when most people say they don’t like onions, they are more concerned about texture rather than flavor.

“No one is ever going to say these onions are great in here, and if they do comment on the onions, usually something is wrong (with the recipe),” says Linda Carucci, former dean of California Culinary Academy, a culinary instructor and author of the critically acclaimed Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks. “Onions provide depths of flavor like nothing else.”

Onions — with a naturally protectant outer skin to ward off food-borne illnesses — also provide enough nutritional and health benefits that including them in your recipes will help your body develop a healthy gut, fight off inflammation, and potentially help your body fight off cancer. So it’s worthwhile to get the most out of this natural ninja.

Sneaking it into your recipes could be the equivalent of sneaking spinach into your berry smoothies – but with the added bonus of adding flavor rather than flying under the radar.

We suggest you start small with this Basil, Walnut and Sweet Onion Pesto. The onions hiding inside this sweet onion pesto give a boost to any meal or snack. Use it to top crackers, garnish pizzas, fill sandwiches, or as a spread for your favorite avocado toast.

Basil, Walnut, Sweet Onion Pesto

Makes about 1 cup


4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium white onion, chopped (1 cup)

1 ½ cups packed fresh basil leaves

¼ cup chopped raw walnuts

5 tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste


Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high. Add the onion and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until lightly browned and softened. Set aside to cool.

Add the basil and the cooled onions to a small food processor. Pulse 4 to 5 times until finely chopped. Add the walnuts, cheese, lemon juice, remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and salt. Puree 30 to 45 seconds, until all ingredients are combined and the walnuts and cheese make the pesto almost creamy in appearance. Add more salt if desired. Serve right away or refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Note:  If you enjoy the zesty bite of raw sweet onions, you can make this pesto without sautéing the onions first. Simply add all the ingredients to the food processor.

Recipe and photos for the National Onion Association by Lori Rice.



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