For years this has been a must have dish at the Thanksgiving and Christmas table at my home. My mom learned this from her mom, who learned it from... well, I don't know how many generations of swedish grandmothers. While it's traditional for holiday meals at our house, it's a great winter vegetable side for any meat dish.
You can use any kind of onion including pearl, cioppolino, white, yellow, etc. I like to use small yellow onions, which are easier to peel than the pearl onions,and avoid larger onions, which you will want to quarter, and tend to fall apart when you parboil them. You can prepare as many onions as you want for the number of people as you're planning for, and make more sauce according to the proportions below. The amount given will do 1 or 1 and 1/2 pounds nicely.
I've often felt tempted to modernize or otherwise tart up this dish (you know, crisp some sage leaves in butter, then crumble them and add them to the bread crumbs, etc.) but I never have, because it's simply wonderful just as it is. So here's the recipe, if you find something interesting to update it let me know!
2 T flour
1 c. half and half (you can use part milk if you are watching calories, but will lose a little of the creaminess)
1/8 tsp fresh grated nut
salt and pepper to taste
1 to 1 1/2 pound onions, peeled, and if you are using large ones, halved or quartered
Preheat oven to 350-400 degrees. 375 is ideal, but one of the beauties of this dish is that you can stick it in with something else in this range of temperatures if you are making a large dinner.
To make the cream sauce melt the butter in a sturdy sauce pan, and then whisk in the flour, cooking for a minute or two, but not burning it. Add the half and half and stir while it thickens, then add the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Take your peeled, rinsed, and if necessary, quartered onions and put them in a large sauce pan or stew pot, cover with water (you can add some salt to the water), cover, and bring to boil. Turn heat down, and simmer until the onions are crisp and no more than half cooked, about 5 minutes or so, depending on onion size. They will cook a bit more before you serve them. They should be holding their shape well if you're careful. Drain the onions, reserving some of the liquid for possible later use.
Put them in a ovenproof casserole dish - a deeper dish or bowl is better than a large flat one. At this point, if the cream sauce has become very thick, thin it slightly with some reserved juice and then pour over the onions. However, the onions never completely drain so there will be some liquid in them that will compensate for the thick sauce. Top with dried bread crumbs (not necessary for taste, but makes it look better!) Put it in the oven until it is bubbling around the edges and the onions are heated through in the center. Enjoy!