balsamic-glazed sweet and sour cipollini

I know it has only been five months since I told you about caramelized shallots, and I would hate for you to think that I have a one-track mind about the diminutive members of the allium family. I use them in other things. For example, I love minced shallots in a salad dressing or tomato sauce, and sometimes I even roast cippoline with tomatoes and pour the juices over garlic-rubbed toast.

butter, sizzling

But mostly, mostly I just think about slow-cooking them in butter and sugar and vinegar until they caramelize and take on entirely new dimensions. Knee-weakening dimensions. Futile to resist dimensions. Side dishes that upstage the roast dimensions. If you were alone you might lick the dish they came in dimensions. If you know what I mean.

omg the splattering ow

Yet beyond the flavor–though really, there’s no reason to do anything but stop there–there’s a certain functionality in having some of these recipes in your virtual file. I don’t know about where you are, but around here, there are months when it seems like the farmers markets are nothing but onions as far as you can see. Even now, as the tomatoes and peaches wind down but the winter squash haven’t hit their stride yet, there were baskets and baskets of cipollini at the Greenmarket this weekend and I vowed to find something new to do with them. And by “new” I really mean “close enough”.

Balsamic Glazed Sweet and Sour Cippoline

One year ago: Spaghetti with Chorizo and Almonds

Two years ago: Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake

Balsamic Glazed Sweet and Sour Cipolinni
Adapted from Mario Batali

This recipe differs from the caramelized shallots in several ways: It is entirely cooked on the stove, it uses some tomato sauce to thicken up the sauce, balsamic replaces red wine vinegar, rosemary replaces parsley and cipollini with shallots. But the effect–which is Heaven On a Plate and also The Best Side Dish, Ever–is the same.

2 pounds cipollini or small (1 1/2-inch) onions
4 tablespoons virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons sweet butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup tomato sauce of your choice (I cheated and used canned. Don’t tell!)
1 cup water
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves

Blanche the onions in boiling water for one minute and let them cool so that they can easily be peeled. Peel the onions, leaving and washing any root strand you may find.

In a 12 to14-inch saute pan over a medium high flame, heat virgin olive oil until just smoking. Add butter and cook until foam subsides. Add onions and saute until light golden brown on all sides, about 8 to 10 minutes. [Batali doesn’t mention this but listen to me and my messily-splattered walls, floor, ceiling and arms that still hurt at the thought of it: this will splatter a lot. You either want to use a splatter screen, should you be savvy enough to have one, or a lid. Consider yourself warned.]

Add sugar, vinegar, tomato sauce and water and bring to a boil. Cook onions uncovered covered (again, the splatter effect is such that a lid is worth using) until just al dente, about 10 minutes. If liquid dissipates too quickly, add more water, a 1/4 cup at a time, realizing that it is essential not to overcook the onions. The sauce should just adhere to the onions. Remove from saute pan to an earthenware dish and hold in a warm place, or allow to cool if you are serving them later or as an antipasto. Sprinkle with rosemary as a garnish.

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57 comments on balsamic-glazed sweet and sour cipollini

  1. oh my…this sounds like something to try. I’m always looking for something different to add to my antipasto platter. The only thing is I don’t recall every seeing anything called that around here (the back of beyond). I shall have to go on a hunt.

    Thanks for the nudge to try something new.

  2. Luke

    These look amazing, Deb! And these onions are small enough and the skins tight enough to make peeling them without blanching them first a total pain in the behind. It’d take forever and you’d loose a good bit of the onion too–he says, speaking from painful experience. Blanching is, in the case of cippollini and pearl onions, TOTALLY worth it.

  3. Since these aren’t overcooked, the red cippolini would hold their color prettily. I’ve been stocking cippolinis every day since August at a little market down in the Mission, reds in a stripe beside the yellows. I wish more customers would notice them.

  4. Maiken

    I LOVE onions with balsamico and something sweet. I usually use honey, though, and I have never added tomato paste. Honey keeps it already kind of thick enough. I think I will still continue using honey (have a bee-keeper in the family), but I will try the addition of tomato paste and some water. Now… If I only found a perfect roast to accompany this with… Even though the onions are easily good enough to be eaten by themselves!

  5. Susan

    I love these onions caramelized. I think I used Giada’s recipe the first time I tried them. Now, I caramelize them by cooking them in with my brisket when I fix it along with sliced portabellos..YUM! I bet these would be good creamed too, instead of using the pearls.

  6. Jonas

    Looks amazing – I need to track me down some of those onions… I think they’re spelled “cipolline” though – or is that something else?

  7. deb

    I have seen them spelled cipolini, cippoline, and cipolline and could not find one agreed-upon conclusion. Heck, even the recipe I pulled this from spells them two different ways in two different places.

  8. Definitely going to try this one. I am betting our CSA will have copious onions in the next few weeks…and my fiance considers vinegar a food group of primary importance.


  9. Sara

    Thank you for such a great website. I found it on Sunday, and then used it today to come up with dinner. The arroz con pollo turned out great! Thanks again!

  10. Lisa

    Is it “cipolline” or “cippolini”? Seems like it would be the latter since it is a masculine noun in the plural form. Anyway, they look cool! Thanks for the recipe!

  11. I thought I knew ‘stuff’ about onions but I had to actually look up cipollini on Google. This New Zealander has never heard of them before… now I wonder if I could even find them. Once I do, I’ll be trying out this recipe! It looks delicious :-)

  12. Akila

    My husband and I have been trying to recreate the recipe for luscious balsamic glazed cipollinis we had in a little hole-in-the-wall bacari in Venice. I’ve tried the balsamic glazed cipollini recipe with pomegranate seeds on Epicurious but the glaze came out a tad too thin for my taste and I also tried Martha Stewart’s balsamic glazed cipollinis but that recipe is a disaster (glaze isn’t thick and doesn’t have a strong balsamic taste and onions aren’t cooked nearly long enough in her recipe). We’ll try these next!

  13. I picked up the onions (both red and white!) at Union Square this morning. Just to clarify—do you mean tomato sauce, like straight in a can, or like pasta sauce? Or tomato paste?

  14. RachelM

    Ummmm… can anyone explain what a good substitute for these cipollinis would be? I too live in the backside of nowhere, and am positive these won’t be on the grocery store shelves, but would love to try this recipe. Should I just stick with the shallots recipe?

  15. deb

    Hi Rachel — The recipe notes that you can use cippoline or any small onion. Some varieties, like pearl onions, sometimes come frozen. I am sure they would work as well.

    Maggie — Tomato sauce. Batali’s recipe includes a homemade tomato sauce recipe, but I felt it was unnecessary unless you already have a batch made.

  16. Kelly S.

    I just can’t lov the onion family :( these look good, but i know that i would not feel the same way if i ate them. Onions are ok IN things, if the pieces are small or you used onion powder…but this? I’ll leave them all for my mom!

  17. Hi! I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and even if I’m vegan I always find inspiring things and amazing pictures!
    I don’t want to sound like a little teacher but, since I’m Italian (and living in Italy) I can confirm you that the correct Italian word is “cipolline”; cipolla means onion and cipolline small onions.
    Keep inspiring us all!

  18. lavinia beat me to it, i was going to say: cipolla (onion), cipolle (onions), cipollina (small onion), cipolline (small onions). i love italian. i love italian food, too.
    deb, how do you always make you food look so amazing? yum!

  19. Karen

    Oh, my god, I could kiss you. I printed out this recipe from the Food Network site after Batali made these on “Molto Mario” at some point, like, 10 years ago, and made it several times to great acclaim. Then I lost it, and couldn’t find it online nor in my Batali cookbook. I’ve been bemoaning its loss for years! And here it is.

    Bless you, bless you, bless you. These are insanely delicious–made with cippoline or even pearl onions.

  20. I love cippolines and I love onions and balsamic together. I’ve done balsamic roasted red onions, but I think I’m going to have to give those little baby cippolines. The addition of the tomato sauce and rosemary sounds incredible.

  21. stacy

    These were great. The sauce (I actually had some frozen homemade sauce in my freezer and that certainly helped) was this crazy delicious almost barbeque-like thing.

    And then my roommate got home and she was starving. And, let’s just say, if you happened to stoop so low as to have a box of Stoffer’s french bread extra cheese pizza in your freezer, this would be the perfect topping.

  22. Beth

    Just made these as a side to braised oxtail with some great cippolinis from the Farmer’s Market… delish! As I did not prepare properly and all of our tomato sauce was still frozen, I just pureed a fresh tomato and topped it off with water until pureed tomato + water = 1 1/2 cups of liquid. The tomato flavor probably wasn’t as sultry, but we loved it and it helped scratch the surface of our bumper crop tomato supply.

  23. Beth J

    Thank you for this recipe – these great appetizers are served in Milan as “bar food” in the afternoons – we loved them and I have been looking for a good recipe. Tried to make them on my own but did not realize they needed tomato sauce. Thank you – we will be serving these soon!

  24. syl

    I could not find these onions so I used small vidalia type onions that I halved. For some reason, the sauce never really thickened like the picture so I will use it again in the very near future.

  25. Sanz

    These are fantastic! Made half the recipe using very small Cipolinni onions. So glad I saw the photos here; when the sauce started turning black I would have panicked. And also a thanks for the tip on using a cover! These were a side dish with a slow-roasted pot roast with veggies and they were perfect with it. Guest loved them! This is definitely a recipe I will use over and over. (But did not use the Rosemary…forgot!!)

  26. Wendy E

    I overdid step 1 and my onions are definitely not al dente. Still tasty, though. I used tomato paste instead of tomato sauce and do not recommend this substitution. I’ll make again but I’ll use tomato sauce and worry less about the initial golden browning.

  27. Jennie

    Absolutely delicious! Be aware that peeling two pounds of blanched cippolline is a time-consuming process. Personally, I wouldn’t have minded a longer initial sauté to get the onions nice and soft and caramelized on the outside before adding the sauce. My sauce reduced in about 13 minutes to a wonderful, thick, clinging agrodolce cloak. But the better-cooked onions are themselves agrodolce whereas the less-well-cooked ones need the sauce to achieve the sweet-sour ideal.