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I like to think of onions as an unexplored ocean. We’ve traversed its every surface, from craggy shore to craggy shore, but what it really holds, deep below, still continues to elude us. Discovering new ways to make onions into a delicious, generous, warming main-course supper is like unlocking the mysterious secrets of the dark, watery abyss. There’s so much more we have to learn beyond the slicing and dicing, below the crashing waves.
6 Large Red Onions
150G (5½oz) Pearl Barley
25G (1oz) Unsalted Butter
2 Garlic Cloves, Thinly Sliced
200Ml (7Fl oz) Vegetable Stock
50G (1¾oz) Mature Cheddar Cheese, Grated
1 Small Handful Of Chives, Finely Chopped
1 Small Handful Of Flatleaf Parsley, Leaves Picked And Chopped
2 Tbsp Fresh, Coarse White Breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp Oats
A Scattering Of Finely Grated Blue Or Other Favourite Cheese
Sea Salt And Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F/gas mark 6.
Place the onions on a baking tray, just as they are, and bake them for 1 hour 15 minutes, until cooked through. Meanwhile, rinse the pearl barley, transfer it to a pan and cover it with cold water. Place over a high heat and bring up to the simmer. Cook for 30–40 minutes, until tender, then drain in a colander and allow to stand while you deal with the onions.
Remove the cooked onions from the oven and – very carefully, so as not to burn yourself – halve them using a serrated knife (a sharp bread knife is a good choice). Don’t crush the onions – rather, draw the knife across them. Lift the centre out of each half. Each one should pop out easily, but you might need to use the tip of a knife to release them.
Place a pan on a medium heat and add the butter. Roughly chop the baked onion centres and add them to the pan, along with the garlic and some salt and pepper. Cook for 3–4 minutes, then add the cooked barley. Stir again, then add the stock, grated Cheddar, and the chopped chives and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon the barley mixture into the hollowed-out onion halves. Scatter over the breadcrumbs and oats and sprinkle over the blue or other cheese. Bake for 15 minutes, until the filling is piping hot and the cheese is beginning to crisp a little, then serve at once.