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.
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
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.