Spaghetti with caramelized onions and crispy breadcrumbs

Usually onions are added to a dish to give it an extra layer of flavour, which is quite logical because they contain loads of umami. But they are also delicious as the main veggie of the dish, and as an added bonus they are really healthy and cheap too. The onions in this dish are sweet, savoury and soft; the crispy breadcrumbs give a nice, crunchy texture. The original recipe uses fusili, but I used spaghetti, because I use spaghetti for almost all pasta dishes. The original recipe also suggest to serve the dish with a white cabbage and carrot salad; I didn’t, but a fresh salad would combine well with the pasta.

Cooking onions can be tricky, they can stay quite hard even after cooking for a long time. To prevent this, I have a few tricks. I slice my onions thinly or in small cubes, because thicker slices and larger cubes tend to stay hard more often. I always use a generous amount of fat (oil or butter) and a generous pinch of salt to fry them in, separately from the other ingredients. Only after softening them I add other ingredients or add the onions to other ingredients, even when the whole thing will cook much longer. And I always start on high heat while stirring to soften the onions, and then turn down the heat to cook and caramelize them further.

Spaghetti with caramelized onions and crispy breadcrumbs (serves 4)
Adapted from Volkskeuken

2 old whole-grain slices of bread
8 tbsp olive oil
600 g peeled onions, sliced thinly in half moons
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped finely (I prefer the dish without garlic, I find the garliccy flavour too overwhelming)
1 tbsp dried thyme (I prefer to use fresh from my garden)
1 tsp sugar
Optional: 50 ml white wine
400 g pasta
120 g grated cheese (something with oomph, like a medium aged farmhouse gouda)
a bunch of chives, sliced
salt and pepper

Crumble the bread. Mix with 2 tbsp olive oil and a pinch of salt. Sauté in a skillet on medium heat until crisp. Spread out on a plate and set aside to cool.
Heat the remaining olive oil in a skillet. Add the onion, garlic, thyme, sugar and a generous pinch of salt and cook on low heat until soft and caramelized (about 20 minutes). Stir regularly. If using, add the wine at the end and cook for a few minutes on high heat to reduce.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta. Reserve a bit of the cooking liquid. Mix the pasta with the onions, and then with the cheese and chives. Add a little of the cooking liquid to make it unctuous. Season with salt and pepper, scoop into plates and sprinkle with the crispy breadcrumbs. Serve immediately.

Note: to make this dish truly vegan, make sure you use egg-free pasta, egg/dairy-free bread and a vegan-suitable cheese substitute. You could also omit the cheese, the dish will still be delicious.

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