This is a super rich, super delicious meal that is like a comforting hug of caramelized onions, pasta, and cheese. It’s the flavors of French onion soup in a pasta bake.
I got this recipe from Half Baked Harvest, and didn’t contribute massively except to do several of the variations that the recipe developer noted and to make it lactose free (hence the ghee). Also I will be far more realistic than the original in telling you that caramelizing onions is not a process that’s likely to be done in 8 minutes. For me, it took about 40 minutes, and even then I would not call them “deeply caramelized” so much as “caramelized enough that my impatience won out”.
- 4 tablespoons butter or ghee
- 3 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons honey
- ½ cup pure unsweetened cranberry juice (or a dry red wine)*
- 1 rounded teaspoon minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme (or 2 tbsp fresh)
- salt and black pepper
- 3 ½ cups vegetable broth (or use a beef or imitation beef stock if you want to make it even more like French onion soup)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 pound of short cut pasta – I used mezzi rigatoni which worked really well
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper – not enough to really add heat, just a little flavor
- 1 1/4 cups canned coconut milk (or real whole milk)
- 2 cups shredded gruyere cheese – I used a medium aged gruyere
*I don’t cook dishes with wine for my husband, and the recipe developer suggested either pure cranberry or pomegranate juice instead. I used pure unsweetened cranberry juice and it worked well. Of course then I was left with the question of what to do with the rest of the bottle of cranberry juice, which is still lingering in my fridge. I was of course curious and tasted it straight and WHOA. I knew it would be sour, but wow. Not just sour, but bitter. At least it’s pretty decent mixed with some sweet tea? I imagine if you’re a person that likes mixed drinks, there are plenty of possibilities. Wait what were we talking about? Let me get back to the recipe.
Throw the butter, onions, and honey into a large oven safe pot over medium-high heat. (If you don’t have an oven safe pot, you could transfer this to a casserole dish before putting it in the oven.) Cook for about 5 minutes until softened. Add ¼ cup of the juice/wine, let it cook into the onions. Add the rest, let it cook in, and then reduce heat to medium. Keep cooking, stirring every few minutes, until the onions are deeply caramelized. As noted above, this took me at least 40 minutes. If you’re committed to doing the onions right, you really should even put the heat down to medium low, but I’m too impatient for that. The higher the heat you use, the more unevenly the onions will caramelize – if that doesn’t bug you and you want a shortcut, by all means, go crazy with the heat.
Add the garlic, thyme, salt and pepper, and cook for another couple of minutes. Add the broth, soy sauce, bay leaves, and pasta, and bring to a boil. Stir frequently until pasta is al dente (this took me a few minutes longer than the box recommended, given that the pasta wasn’t all fully submerged at the same time). Stir in the cayenne, coconut milk, and ½ cup of the gruyere, and remove from heat.
Top with the remaining gruyere and bake at 400 for 20 minutes or until the cheese has melted and is lightly browned on top. You should end up with some really nice browning around the edges of the pot as well. Cool 5 minutes before serving.
I highly recommend serving with a salad to cut the richness a little, plus a good hunk of decent bread to sop up any sauce left behind. I can’t overemphasize what a delicious meal this was – it was worth the time it took to make.