Want a novel (and healthy) substitute for regular ol’ pasta? How about tender, succulent strands of roasted Spanish Sweet Onions? Top them with a light, fruity turkey ragù loaded with paprika and studded with raisins and olives for a truly exciting fusion of flavours! (Skip to recipe.)
Thanks to Idaho-Eastern Oregon Spanish Sweet Onions for sponsoring this post so I could share this delicious recipe with you and tell you about one of my favourite cooking vegetables.
We’ve been hunkered down here in the snowy north. School buses have been canceled many days as the temperatures dip into the minus 40s with the wind chill. As I cocoon inside, wrapped in a blanket to work at my computer or in my comfy apron to putter in my kitchen, I look out to see the sun sparkling on the snow. It’s a deceptive winter postcard scene, because as I step outside to feed the chickens the air hits my lungs with a tsunami blast of painful cold. Brrr. I don’t linger, but do my chores quickly and head back inside to my warm kitchen. I’m glad we’ve got a freezer full of food and our pantry is overflowing. I don’t feel like tackling reluctant vehicles and icy roads to head to town.
There’s a sack of potatoes in the basement, jars of preserved fruits and vegetables, all the spices and seasonings I could think of, and a big basket of beautiful Idaho-Eastern Oregon Spanish Sweet Onions sitting on my staircase landing – a veritable culinary treasure trove. When these onions are in season, from mid-October to early April, I always make sure to have them on hand (they come in red, yellow, and white varieties).
Spanish Sweets are my favourite onions; they are large and firm and heavy, containing more natural sugars and less water than sweet onions, making them ideal for caramelizing, sautéing and grilling. They are grown on small family farms in the Snake River Valley of Idaho and eastern Oregon; the rich volcanic soils and dry climate there produce some of the finest onions in the world, with a unique combination of mild flavour, large size, and tight, dry skins.
And did you know how good-for-you onions are? They’re a nutrient-dense vegetable, high in antioxidants (over 25 different ones), rich in vitamin C and the B vitamins, minerals (especially potassium), and cancer-fighting sulfur compounds. They’re also one of the best sources of prebiotics, an indigestible type of fiber that feeds and promotes the probiotics (good bacteria) in our gut.
I couldn’t do without onions in my cooking. I use them in almost every savoury dish for the flavour they add. Spanish Sweets are especially useful, because they caramelize so beautifully. And since they’re so solid and fleshy, they keep their shape after roasting, making them perfect as a gluten-free, grain-free stand in for noodles. They really shine in this role, bringing a surprising twist to your plate and your palate. The texture of these roasted onion ribbons is tender, yet firm, and that luscious sweetness pairs so well with a fruity, tangy turkey ragù.
This dish is a fantastic fusion of flavours: based on an Italian ground meat ragù with added fennel seeds, using the simple style of a French Basque axoa, adding the rich sweet paprika of a Hungarian goulash, and the olives, raisins, and sherry vinegar of Spanish cuisine, all served atop the humble strands of roasted, richly sweet onions grown in the northwest corner of the United States. International deliciousness!
Spanish Sweets make a great pasta substitute, delicious for a paleo, gluten-free, grain-free option, or just as a novel way to enjoy your favourite pasta sauce.
Let’s Get Cooking!
First, grab yourself four nice big Spanish Sweets. Peel them and slice them into rings (save the end pieces).
Pop the slices apart into rings (I love this part – gives me the same satisfaction as popping the bubbles on plastic bubble wrap). Toss them with a bit of oil and seasoning, then set them into a hot oven to roast to rich golden sweetness.
Sauté the diced onion ends with a bell pepper and fennel seeds.
Add in the ground turkey and a whole bunch more yummy ingredients: paprika, raisins, olives, broth, seasoning. Simmer it til it’s all saucy and bubbling.
Stir in a shot of sweet sherry vinegar. Some parsley.
Take your beautifully roasted onion ‘noodles’ from the oven, and top them with the fragrant turkey ragù.
Dinner is served!
* * * * *
Kitchen Frau Notes: Spanish Sweets will keep in a basket or mesh bag with good air circulation for up to four weeks. You can also extend their use and add convenience to your life by dicing fresh onions and putting them into a heavy duty zip-top freezer bag. Squeeze out all the air and lay the bag flat in the freezer, then break off chunks of diced frozen onions and add them directly to any recipe that calls for fresh onions. Or freeze the diced onions in a single layer on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, then transfer them to a zip-top bag and freeze for easy removal of any amount. Great trick for busy work nights.
If you don’t have sherry vinegar, you can use balsamic vinegar instead in the turkey ragù.
Large Spanish Sweets work the best for this recipe. Their large size provides nice long noodle-like strands when roasted (one large Spanish Sweet can weigh up to ¾lb/350gms).
gluten free, dairy free, paleo option
- 4 large Spanish Sweet Onions (2½-3 lbs/1.15-1.35kg total weight)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1½ teaspoons fine sea salt, divided
- sprinkle of black pepper
- 1 large red bell pepper
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 1 lb (454gms) ground turkey thigh meat
- 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
- ¼ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- ¼ cup (30gms) raisins
- ¼ cup (35gms) coarsely chopped pitted green olives
- 1 cup (240ml) chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch (substitute with tapioca starch for paleo diets)
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided
- optional but absolutely delicious – serve with a dollop of sour cream
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
Peel the sweet onions, but leave the root end attached (it’s a good hand-hold when slicing them). Cut a thin slice off the stem end of each onion and reserve it. Slice the onions crosswise into thin rings (about as thick as linguine strands). Stop slicing about ½ inch from the root end, and set the ends aside with the trimmed onion tops.
Separate the onion slices into rings and put them into a 9×13 inch (23x33cm) baking dish. Drizzle the onion rings with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt and a sprinkling of black pepper. Toss them gently (your hands work best) to distribute the oil.
Bake the onions for 25 to 30 minutes (turning them once after 15 minutes) until they are softened and tender, but not browned.
While the onions are baking, coarsely chop up the trimmings from the ends of the onions, discarding the little nob of dry roots from the very end. Remove the stem and seeds from the red pepper and cut it into ½” (1cm) dice.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet, add the chopped onions, diced bell peppers, and fennel seeds. Cook over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, until the onions are translucent.
Add the ground turkey, the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, paprika, and crushed red pepper. Cook for 5-7 minutes, breaking up any turkey chunks, until the meat is no longer pink.
Add the tomato paste, raisins, and olives. Stir the cornstarch into the chicken stock until smooth, and pour it into the meat and vegetables in the skillet. Cook and stir the ragù until the sauce is thickened and bubbling. Stir in the vinegar and 2 tablespoons of the chopped parsley.
Serve the turkey ragù over the sweet onion ‘noodles’, and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of chopped parsley. A dollop of sour cream on top is a rich and delicious addition, if desired.
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