Amanda & Merrill

Tuscan Onion Confit

November 12, 2009

- Merrill

For years now, on the day before Thanksgiving my mother has made what in my family goes by the slightly unappetizing name of "Tuscan Onion Goo." Inspired by a visit to a family-owned gem in Florence called Ristorante del Fagioli, this sour-sweet onion confit was originally served to her as an antipasto. She enjoyed it so much that she asked, in halting but enthusiastic Italian, if the waiter would tell her how it was made. He promptly ushered her into the tiny kitchen, where the sweaty, grinning chef himself showed her how to put together the dish. She took mental notes and then came home and recreated it, with a few small adaptations.

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The recipe has since become one of my mother's signatures, and Thanksgiving would simply not be Thanksgiving in our house without "Tuscan Onion Goo." It's a great addition -- or alternative -- to cranberry sauce. While the flavors are very different, it serves a similar role: the sweetness provides a counterpoint to other, more savory sides, and the acid in the vinegar cuts through some of the richness that often pervades the meal.

The confit couldn't be easier to make, although it does require a bit of a time commitment. You can use frozen pearl onions, but it's worth trying with fresh cippollini. My mother insists that you have to be crazy to make it with anything other than frozen onions after the first time, but I find peeling cippollini somewhat cathartic. Once the peeling (or the opening of the bag) is done, you briefly sauté the onions in a bit of olive oil and deglaze them with sherry (my mother's addition -- the chef at Ristorante del Fagioli used Cognac), then simmer them slowly with some water, sugar, red wine vinegar, raisins and toasted pine nuts, until the onions are limpid and soft and all of the flavors have had a chance to meld. The confit keeps very well in the fridge, and it doesn't have to be limited to turkey; it's great with beef, pork and lamb as well.

Tuscan Onion Confit

(Adapted from Ristorante del Fagiolii)

Makes about 3 cups 

  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 12 ounces small cippollini onions or one 10-ounce bag of frozen pearl onions, thawed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup medium sherry
  • 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup raisins
  • Salt 

1. Using a small frying pan, lightly toast the pine nuts over medium-low heat for 3-5 minutes, shaking the pan back and forth to keep them from scorching. Set aside. 

2. Peel the onions -- either by blanching them first in boiling, salted water for about 30 seconds and then using a sharp paring knife to strip away the skins, or by simply going at the raw onions with the aforementioned paring knife. (Personally, I find blanching a waste of time here and prefer to just have at it.)

3. Put the olive oil in large frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook gently (without browning) for about 5 minutes. Add the sherry and cook until mostly reduced. Add 3/4 cup water, vinegar, sugar, raisins, pine nuts and a pinch of salt. Stir well. Simmer the mixture over the lowest heat possible for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring every 15 minutes or so. You may need to add more water from time to time if the mixture gets too thick and gooey or starts to stick to the bottom of the pan. It is finished when everything has caramelized well, and the flavors have blended together (you can take it as far as you’d like—I for one prefer a deep amber color). 

4. Cool and serve at room temperature. Can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. 

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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MrsWheelbarrow November 24, 2009
I love this recipe! I just made a batch and I'm wondering if I have enough. I always cut an X in the bottom of pearl (or cippollini) onions before blanching for 2-3 minutes. They are very easy to peel at that point. It's still a pain... they're small and slippery and you need TONS of them, but the X seems to help.
Veronica November 25, 2009
Yesterday, I just peeled the cippolini without blanching--though still time consuming, I found it quite satisfying--certainly less slippery! Also, for a change, I used Port instead of sherry and sherry vinegar instead of red wine vinegar. There is a noticeable difference and I hope everyone else will like it as much as I do! Happy Thanksgiving!
southhillfarm November 16, 2009
sneaky shortcut: BUY (!) cippollini marmalade or rosemary and apple jelly on Since Thanksgiving is all about the sides i serve Beth's Farm crazy delicious chutneys, too.
Merrill S. November 26, 2009
One of my favorite things in the world is Stonewall Kitchen's Roasted Garlic and Onion Jam. Would be great with turkey today.
mariaraynal November 13, 2009
Cippollini onions are the best -- worth the fuss. This would be great on a turkey sandwich the day after Thanksgiving. Lovely recipe.
Merrill S. November 26, 2009
Just saw this comment for the first time. That is a fantastic idea! Will have to try it tomorrow in my sandwich.
Maria T. November 13, 2009
Merril, what a brilliant recipe, going in my repertoire! I posted a puff pastry very thin tart with sweet potaoes and confit onions which I made last Sunday and next time I will try with this verson. Yummy. Thanks for sharing and thanks to your mum too obviously!
TheWimpyVegetarian November 12, 2009
This looks great! It reminded me of an onion confit recipe of mine that caramelizes onions and incorporates raisins, cinnamon and honey for a bit of a Moroccan feel. I just posted it but for some reason it doesn't show up yet in recipes - maybe it takes a few minutes. I can't wait to try yours!
WinnieAb November 12, 2009
This looks delicious Merrill...I love caramelized onions and I bet this is just heavenly with the raisins and pine nuts...will surely try it this Thanksgiving!
Kelsey B. November 12, 2009
Mmm, this sounds fantastic. I love making spreads or "goo" like this because they can be used for so many yummy things. I agree with lastnightsdinr, it would be delicious on a crostini and a great addition to anything Thanskgiving table.
MrsWheelbarrow November 12, 2009
I'm not a huge fan of cranberries, so I'm always looking for other options. This looks delicious and will definitely be on our Thanksgiving table this year.
lastnightsdinner November 12, 2009
This sounds heavenly. I bet it would be great spread on crostini or to fill a rustic tart.