Monday, January 25, 2021

Roasted Potatoes & Carrots with Glazed Pearl Onions & Olives

The recipe I’m sharing today came about on Christmas day after a holiday season of scrambling to work as much as possible—and consequently spreading myself too thin—in order to prepare for the looming slower than usual January.  More tired than I have been in past years after a normal food-service industry pedal to the metal holiday pace (due to the stress of the past year, I assume), I hadn’t even bothered to shop for Christmas dinner.  I had meat options in my freezer…and an assortment of orphan vegetables (left from various private events) in my pantry and fridge.  I figured I could come up with something.  After all, I was only serving two.

As often happens at moments like this, the meal turned out to be exceptionally delicious.
  I don’t know if it was due to low expectations… or having the freedom to prepare foods that aren’t on the extended family-approved list… or the fact that it was truly a simple meal (small number of ingredients…simply prepared).   It is likely that it was the intersection of all these things. 

In any case, it will live in my memory:  Lamb rack—flavored with salt, pepper & rosemary; haricots verts with hazelnuts, shallots and orange zest; and garlic and thyme roasted carrots and potatoes with pearl onions and black olives.  That’s it.  It had more the character of a fancier than usual week night meal than a holiday meal, but it was perfect for the day.  The lamb and green beans were already a part of my permanent repertoire.  The potatoes and carrots were a gussied up version of a simple dish I have made on and off over the years.  The pearl onions turned out to be the surprise star of the show.  

Glazed pearl onions are a garnish found often in traditional, classic French cooking.  When I was at Le Cordon Bleu, it seemed like they were in everything.  Peeling pearl onions was frequently the first thing you did when you entered your daily practical.  And peeling them is the most difficult part of the preparation.  But it isn’t really difficult…just a bit tedious.  It isn’t an activity that I would choose to do as often as we did it in school, but as I discovered on Christmas day:  it is occasionally worth it (especially if you are only preparing a few). 

To peel pearl onions, start by trimming the ends (getting rid of the roots and the stringy blossom end).  Then, place them in a bowl and cover them with boiling water.  Let them sit a few minutes until the skins begin to soften.  Lift them out of the water and peel away the skins while the onions are still warm.  To do this you will need the help of a paring knife (choke up on the knife and use just the tip).  If some of the outer layer of onion comes off because the skin seems stuck, don’t worry too much.  It is likely this outer layer is tough and dry if the softened skin won’t pull away and in such case it’s best to discard it anyway. 

To cook, place the onions in a saucepan that will just hold them in a snug single layer, cover them with water and add a bit of butter, sugar and salt.

Bring to a simmer and cook, partially covered until they are almost tender (the tip of a knife will encounter a slight resistance in the center).

Remove the lid completely, increase the heat to moderately high and boil rapidly until the water has evaporated and the onions are sizzling in the butter/sugar mixture.

You may stop at this point if you just want a pale glaze…or you may continue to cook (over a slightly reduced heat, swirling the pan regularly and keeping a close eye on them) until the glaze caramelizes and the onions are coated in the golden brown glaze. 

In classic French cooking these onions are often used as a final garnish. They are simply warmed and scattered over the surface of the dish.  One of the most famous uses is in the à la grand-mère (grandmother style) garnish of meat stews: combined with fat chunks of bacon and sautéed mushrooms….a beautiful and delicious touch.

For Christmas dinner I used them as the final addition to a pan of roasted carrots and baby potatoes…along with some salty black olives.
 I don’t normally keep pearl onions.  They were part of the odds and ends I had left from my busy season.  As I stood in front of my pantry on Christmas day, it occurred to me that they would add a special touch to our meal.  And they did.  The interplay of savory, salty and sweet lit up the plate.  If you are looking for a simple side that punches lots of flavor buttons to go with a plain cutlet or chop, you could do worse. 

I’m glad I rediscovered glazed pearl onions.
  I think when I left school I wasn’t planning to ever cook them again of my own volition.  But revisiting them after all these years has elevated my opinion of them.  I will probably make a point to keep a bag in my pantry during the late fall and winter months from now on. 

Roasted Potatoes & Carrots with Glazed Pearl Onions & Olives

1/2 lb. creamer—or similar small—potatoes (about 8 potatoes), scrubbed
1/2 lb. carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks using a roll cut (see below)
4 to 5 cloves of garlic
Several sprigs of thyme
Olive oil
5 oz. yellow or white pearl onions, peeled
1 t. butter
1/2 t. sugar
10 to 12 pitted Kalamata olives, halved
1 T. minced flat leaf parsley
A squeeze of lemon, optional (see note)

Preheat the oven to 375°.
  Combine the potatoes, carrots, garlic and thyme in a roasting pan large enough to hold the vegetables in a snug single layer.  Drizzle liberally with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. 

Cover the pan with foil transfer to the oven.
  Remove the foil after 25 minutes.  Continue to roast until the vegetables are tender and beginning to caramelize—another 15 to 20 minutes. 

While the vegetables roast, prepare the glazed pearl onions.  Place the onions in a small saucepan just large enough to hold them in a snug single layer.  Add water to cover.  Add the butter sugar and a pinch of salt and bring to a simmer.  Cover and cook until almost tender.  Uncover and increase the heat to medium-high to high and boil until the liquid is reduced to a glaze; reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook until the glaze turns a golden brown, swirling the pan to coat the onions with the glaze.   Set aside.

When the roasted vegetables are tender, add the pearl onions and olives to the pan.  Return to the oven and roast for another five minutes.  Remove from the oven.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon, if you like.  Fold in the parsley and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.  Serves 2 generously.


  • To roll cut carrots, place the carrot on the cutting board and cut a 1-inch segment, making the cut on a diagonal. Roll the carrot forward a quarter turn and make the next cut, using the same angle. Continue to roll and cut all the way up the carrot.
  • You may or may not need lemon juice. If the carrots and onions are fresh and sweet, you might not. But after tasting the finished vegetables, if they are well seasoned, yet still seem a bit one dimensional or flat tasting, give them a squeeze of lemon to lift and brighten the flavors.
  • You may substitute cipollini onions for the pearl onions if you like. 
  • The recipe is easily multiplied.  Just choose appropriately sized pans.

Printable Version 


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