I’m not sure when braised sweet-sour onions, based on a Marcella Hazan recipe, showed up on our otherwise relentlessly American Thanksgiving menu. But now it’s unthinkable to leave them out, any more than we would consider skipping the mushroom-onion bread dressing or Brussels sprouts with chestnuts.
When our daughter was in Abu Dhabi on business a few years back, she emailed for the recipe to contribute to an ex-pat Thanksgiving dinner. She couldn’t find flat cipolline onions but successfully substituted small red Indian onions from a local market.
Sides with Italian touches can inject flavor excitement (and maybe a little olive oil) into a meal that tends to be too starchy and bland. So, think about making those onions or picking up on one of these ideas.
- Cover mashed sweet potatoes or winter squash with a topping of grated hard cheese (such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Asiago or pecorino) mixed with chopped pecans or walnuts. Run under the broiler until lightly browned.
- Moisten fresh breadcrumbs with olive oil and toast until golden. Mix in chopped parsley and sauteed garlic bits while still warm. Sprinkle over steamed green beans or roasted cauliflower.
- Go Italian with a sliced celery salad, dressed with a citrus vinaigrette and garnished with toasted walnuts and Parmesan shards. Or, set out an antipasto platter that includes marinated artichokes, wrinkly oil-cured olives and lightly salted radishes or raw fennel.
- Make your pie crust with pasta frolla, Italy’s butter-and-egg pastry dough. It’s easy to work with and especially good for wet fillings such as pumpkin. This crust is also great for a free-form apple crostata, an easier alternative to traditional apple pie.
Braised Sweet-Sour Onions
(Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cook Book)
Makes 6 to 8 servings
3 pounds small white onions (preferably the flat variety called cipolline)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1. In a medium saucepan or skillet broad enough for the onions to fit in a single layer, blanch the onions in boiling water for about 20 seconds; drain and cool slightly. Pull off the papery outer skin; trim dangling roots or tips but leave the root ends intact (otherwise, the onions will come apart when cooked).
2. Return onions to the saucepan; add water half way up the sides of the onions. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer the onions for about 20 minutes, stirring at least once, until tender and about half of the water has evaporated.
3. Add the butter, vinegar, sugar, salt and several grindings of black pepper; continue to simmer very slowly, partially covered, for 1 to 2 hours. Stir often and add a tablespoon or two of water as necessary.
4. When the onions are a burnished golden brown, consider them done. (Can be made ahead and reheated slowly.)