It all begins with an onion. A stovetop stew with a melting heart or a chalk-white risotto, diced onions cooked slowly until translucent. An onion forms the base for curries too, perhaps a frittata. Chef and food writer Simon Hopkinson posits this as idea for an entire cookery book, so frequently we reach for the slippery bulb of gold, white or red.
You have to start somewhere. This is where I’m beginning. I’m going to start chopping without a clear idea what I’m making, This way ideas emerge.
There is a way to chop an onion without causing tears to flow. It is this: 1. Take your standard globular allium and peel. 2. Chop in half, on the horizontal 3. Take one segment and begin chopping, not too finely, from the side. The onion should crunch satisfactorily. 4. While chopping the onion hold it as intact as possible so it retains its semi-globular aspect. You will need to move your fingersor risk a bloody encounter. 5. You should now have half an onion divvied up into slices. Swivel this 90 degrees and begin chopping again, from the side up towards the middle. Onion may try to fall apart but persevere with firm grip. 6. Once completed the onion will crumble into dice ready for its meeting with oil and/ or butter. If using, repeat with other segment.
Carrots, celery and other vegetables have their own rules, and their own time. I am only concerned with getting started. Getting what started? The process.
There are many days when all I want to do is to be standing by the stove, stirring something, a glass of something livening nearby and music or the radio playing. It is not uncommon for me to deliberately elongate the process of cooking so that I can savour it further. In a way, it seems, I am less interested in the end product, especially as I am often cooking for one.
To cook is to be in a delicious state. Absorbing and meditative and from it comes other thoughts, unbidden until now, given an abstract percussive rhythm by the tap of the wooden spoon, clink of glass, bubble of boiling water and scrape of the carving knife. So often, as now, it starts with an onion. Let us see what will emerge.