Monday, May 13, 2013

Cippolini Onions

You can find a hundred recipes for these onions on the Internet.  I saw one tonight that used a mix of soy sauce and honey along with the rest of the ingredients...Not terribly Italian(the soy sauce, not the honey).
In fact, when I asked an elderly gentleman on Salina, about my Cafarella family, he noted that they had the best honey on the island.  Don't know if he was pumping sunshine up my skirt or what, but it does prove that honey is a good choice in Italian cooking.  For centuries, there was not much choice for sweet foods...It was honey or nothing.
This is a good recipe for onion haters.   It is unlike anything else.
Cippolini onions are not the easiest onions to find, and not the easiest to peel.  If you have never seen them, they are rather flattened onions.  You could, of course, use any small onion.  You just need to keep them in a size range that will cook in the prescribed time.
If you go to the Salumerie in Little Italies all over the country, you will find these little onions available, all prepared, but you will pay through the nose for them.  They are usually a little crunchy compared to most recipes, and perhaps a bit more tart, as they do not always use balsamic vinegar.  You may wish to experiment over time with different vinegars and proportions of vinegar and sweeteners to get what you really want.  Also, you may prefer different vinegars and degrees of sweetness with different meats, or just alone with cheese, olives and bread. 
I used to get a small container of these when I first moved to the Boston area, along with a loaf of unsliced Scala bread, a container of mixed olives, a chunk of Provolone, a Genoa Salami(I love Fiorucci, but it is a bitch to find) or if I was feeling rich, a few slices of Prosciutto Crudo.  I would sit with a friend or two on the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge and have a picnic overlooking the Boston skyline.  Add a glass of red wine and a bunch of green(for me) grapes, and life is beautiful.
I do not know about you, but I must have unsliced bread, torn apart by hand, into large chunks.  Slather with butter, or dip into a little cup of oil, grating cheese, salt and pepper and pepperoncini.  Mix them together and allow to sit for a few minutes to blend the flavors.

Anyway...Back to the onions.

I have a stand of Egyptian onions that produce the tiny bulbs at the top of the stalk...those might work with reduced roasting time.  Pickling onions would be good, shallots(If you can afford them) or just sort out the runts when you harvest onions from your garden.

Cut the top and bottom off the onions(You can leave the root end if you want, but rub off the dried up root with your fingers.) and plunge them into a pot of boiling water for just a few seconds.  Remove with a slotted spoon and cool till you can handle them.  The skin should come right off.

Place your onions in a single layer in a heavy skillet(cast iron or enameled would be good) or casserole. 
Mix a tablespoon of honey or white sugar, balsamic(or red wine) vinegar, a tablespoon of herbs like rosemary, basil, oregano, mint or thyme (your favorite), a few tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper.  Cloves are a classic choice with onions.  Sprinkle a few in with the onions, or if the onions are on the larger size, stick one clove into each onion.  This is easy to over-do, so be careful. 

Mix together and stick your pinkie in.  Taste critically.  Look for a pleasant sweet and sour that will satisfy you(remember that the onions will add sweetness).  Agro Dolci is a widespread favorite in Italy.  Pour over the onions.  Cover tightly with a lid or with foil, and roast for 20 minutes.  Remove the cover and stir.  Return to the oven and continue to roast for an additional 20 minutes or to the desired degree of doneness(I know you will just hate tasting these a few times till they are done enough, but be brave.)  Serve them warm or cold.  400 to 450 degrees F is a good range for the oven.

The vinegar, sugar etc. will become syrupy, and if the onions become too dry, add a bit of wine, or more of the original mixture. 

You will find exact measurements in various recipes on line, but you should develop your unique blend through trial and error.   The thing about this, as in many other recipes from Italy, is that they just did not measure.  They dumped in about as much as their mother did, and they altered the recipe by taste with each batch or weight of onions or strength or variety of vinegar.

You could easily just drop these onions into a cast iron pan with a little olive oil.  Dump on the herbs, honey and vinegar etc. as the onions are grilling at a fairly low temperature.  Turn with a big spatula a few times till the sauce reduces.  Taste for the degree of doneness you like(I love them apple crisp, just as much as soft and sticky), and remove to a bowl to cool.
This would be just as good with carrots, and you could add mushrooms late in the roasting process.
You could easily add cloves of garlic to the pan, or stir in a bit of cream at the end of the process and reduce in the last few minutes of the roast time.
Thanks Wikipedia for the image of Cippolini Onions.  Here they are shown peeled, with residual tops still attached.  You could leave them on and have a convenient handle to nibble out of hand.  Just remember to rub off the roots if not cutting them off.  They are perfectly edible, but a little like grit floating around in the sauce.

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