Monday, January 24, 2011

Cipolline in Agrodolce

I'm quite fond of the entire Allium family (which includes onions, garlic, scallions, chives and leeks), but certain ways of presenting them are iconic. In my top ten or twelve favorites, a consistent star is an Italian dish called "cipolline in agrodolce." This translates very roughly as "little onions in sweet and sour sauce," but there is more to it than that. "Cipolline" is a diminutive form of "cipolla" (onion), but it refers specifically to a unique Italian variety--a small, flat onion, quite a bit wider than it is tall, like a cartoonishly fat coin somewhere between a quarter and a poker chip in diameter. Sometimes you'll see a little red onion that approximates this description, but leaning a bit in the more-round-than-flat direction, sold under the same name (pictured, above right). Don't quibble at this point, because they will taste just as good (in their own way) as the flat kind.

The only hard part is peeling them. Be patient and remove the skin carefully, so only the dry skin comes off, and none of the flesh is wasted. Cut off the root and the top just flush with the flat of the bulb, and then strip away the skin. Not so hard, really. Then put them in a small pot with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, some form of sugar, a bay leaf or two, zest of a lemon, salt and pepper. Add enough vegetable bouillon to cover and simmer gently for about an hour and a half. Uncover from time to time and check on them, swirling the pot to swish them around. When the time is up, there should be a nice thick juicy sauce at the bottom of the pot. Serve them hot, warm, or at room temperature. Don't worry if you're not sure about the ingredient quantities--I'll be sure to put this in my next book, and by then I'll have come up with some specific (non-eyeball) measurements. Stay tuned. You're gonna love this dish, trust me.

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