The Braised Onion Pasta I Only Make for People I Love

Because I'm not standing over the stove for two-plus hours for just anyone.

October 16, 2019
Photo by Mark Weinberg

There are, for me, two kinds of recipes, one for each mood: The first kind is quick and easy, like the 30-minute lemon chicken I make when I come home from work hungry and don't want to think too hard about what I'm feeding myself. The second is for when I'm feeding someone else, usually something special I'm excited to share; these take more time, and just a little bit more care.

Like this braised onion pasta, which takes at least two hours to prepare. Even longer if you're making fresh pasta (which, for this recipe, I always do).

There are a couple of key tricks to this sauce: Don't skimp on the butter (this adaptation calls for 10 tablespoons, but I like to stick with the original and use a full 12). Perhaps most important: Be patient. You may be tempted to turn up the heat to speed along the cooking process, but keeping the heat as low as possible for an hour-plus (I've been known to take my onions up to two hours; I recommend it) will give you the most ethereally jammy and complex-tasting caramelized onions ever.

Also, make fresh pasta if you can. When I'm cooking this dish, I like to make more or less a day out of it—spending the afternoon mixing, rolling, and cutting thin sheets of wide pappardelle and using the early evening to prepare the sauce. But there's absolutely zero shame in just buying fresh pasta from the store (I do it all the time).

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“For the people I love most there’s mainly one dish: Spanish Oxtail Stew bc it’s delicious and it takes at least 3-4 hours, but it tastes best the next day or even 2 days after the braising is complete. That is if you can keep the family from cadging portions as soon as the meat is just about to fall off the bone. The other dish that my loved ones crave during the fall is Tong Yuen — a traditional Chinese seasonal soup with round dumplings made from sticky rice flour that represent the full moon. My grandmother, the soup whisperer, made Tong Yuen every fall for the family she doted on, and we looked forward to it every year. When she passed, my mother took on Tong Yuen duty. Now that she can no longer cook as a consequence of Alzheimer’s, I have inherited the recipe and love to cook it for our family when time permits. If you like mochi, this is a wonderful cold weather soup. ”
— Lauren

One fall Sunday, my college roommate and I were looking to avoid studying for a project to tackle. We hadn't cooked in ages, and wanted to relish the day with a long recipe to which we could devote all of our attention. Before working at Food52, I was a community member first, and would often turn to the site for something new to try. That day, I discovered this onion pasta.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

Being from an Italian family, my roommate took charge of the fresh pasta. I tended to the onions, stirring them every so often, until they looked just like the picture on the recipe page. Like all 76 commenters on the recipe, we were astonished by how absolutely delicious it was, particularly with a heap of salty grated Parm over top.

But I didn't fully appreciate just how special this pasta was, or how making a dish like this for someone was a way of showing appreciation for them, until I made it for someone who couldn't have cared less about either.

It was another Sunday, this time in the spring. My roommate and I had invited over a few of our favorite people to eat what we called the "magic onion sauce." Like before, we spent a few hours prepping the fresh pasta and onions, taking care to make sure that the dish we'd hyped up to our friends for days lived up to expectations.

That night, when everyone showed up for dinner, so did an unexpected plus-one my roommate and I had never met before. No problem. There was plenty to go around and we were more than happy to share it with him, too.

But when I served him a bowlful, he pushed aside the onion sauce we'd labored over for hours (okay, just two hours, but still) and ate nothing but the plain pasta. Without so much as a nod of gratitude, he gave me back the bowl filled with a sad, unloved lump of caramelized onions (which I'm unashamed to admit I saved and tossed back into the leftovers).

I was horrified, but maintained my hostly demeanor.

When the night was over, through clenched teeth I thanked him for coming and from then on vowed only to make this much-cherished recipe for people I love most—last-minute dinner party guests notwithstanding.

What's the dish you'll only make for people you love the most? Share it with us in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Griffey
  • wahini
  • Blue3825#
  • OnionSoldier
  • Fernando Leone
    Fernando Leone
Erin Alexander

Written by: Erin Alexander

Erin Alexander is the Managing Editor of Food52.


Griffey May 10, 2023
I cannot wait to make this! My mouth is watering! The dish I make only for people I love is Daube Provençal and I’m open to having it be dethroned.
wahini October 28, 2022
Every now and then I load a slow cooker—or two—with the ingredients for caramelized onions and I set them outside and keep restarting the cookers until the onions are perfect—sometimes I remove them at different amounts of caramelization. Then I package them in useful amounts and freeze them. For months I can make dishes that call for them in no time! I am adding this recipe to my list of caramelized onion dishes.
Blue3825# October 27, 2022
Is this something that can be cooked in an insta pot pressure cooker
OnionSoldier December 19, 2020
Hello and thank you for your dedication to this recipe. I'm cooking this tonight for my "one and only" and have gathered all the Ingredients. I want to brine some chicken breasts to serve with this and would love your input on a recipe for the fowl. After reading the comments I thought mushrooms would be a great addition either with the pasta sauce and/or chicken breasts. I would normally be cooking thighs but alas this is what we have. Looking forward to you and your readers input!
pat December 19, 2020
This dish is gang buster all by itself however the addition of a simple chicken and gravy would be a great addition. Hope you enjoy as much as we do. Bon Appetit!!
Fernando L. October 18, 2020
My Italian mama prepares this sauce with lamb chops adding white wine, removing lamb when done, coating pasta with onion reduction.
Michelle September 28, 2020
When you say 1/4 of Madeira, you mean the wine and not the sauce? I make a Madeira sauce with Madeira wine and Shitake Mushrooms.
Beth B. September 28, 2020
Yes, the wine. Though I think the mushrooms would be a nice addition, but maybe add towards the end?
Amy F. June 2, 2020
I have some fresh morels how do you think sautéing them and adding them on top of the onions would be? Too many distinct flavors?
Angelag83 June 2, 2020
I think so. The onions morph into something wonderful, you must try this.
Amy F. June 2, 2020
Thank you! On the menu for tonight
maggie June 5, 2020
My husband, who is a fan of morels, said he thinks it would be a fabulous addition! Enjoy!
LeslieG May 17, 2020
I was given a few pounds of red onions. Would I be able to use those in this recipe?
pat May 17, 2020
Red onions perish sooner than yellow n white so get busy using them up and possibly give some to friends. I have never cooked with a red onion because of my mom's recommendation no to due to the color it gives off. Pickling would be a great idea, guac and plenty of salads. Enjoy!
Angelag83 April 21, 2020
My 1st ex-father-in-law was an old cajun who taught me this onion base almost 50 years ago. We still use it as the base for chicken and sausage jambalaya. I was very pleased when I stumbled onto this recipe. I made it today and serve red it with fresh pasta. I had no Madera so I did a balsamic reduction and chicken stock. It was simply wonderful. I think time is a major ingredient in this recipe, patience paid off!
charles P. March 27, 2020
This recipe is worth the time and patience. It is rich, jammy, has depth from the slow caramel oat ion and butter. It complements pasts like no other accoutrement. A genius dish
Sandy B. March 27, 2020
The most wonderful pasta. It makes me so happy!
maggie January 18, 2020
I made this last night for dinner, can you say amazing?! I used sweet onions (that’s what I had on hand ), a pinch of turbinado sugar and the 10 tablespoons of butter. I cooked the onions for 2.5 hours on low and they were the best caramelized onions I ever made, according to my husband. Definitely use the Madeira, it added a flavor that took it over the top. Used penne and added Parmesan after it was plated. Let’s just say, there were no leftovers! I will reduce the butter to 8 tablespoons next time because I had extra butter in the bowl, and think the 8 tablespoons will be enough. Overall, a time consuming-but totally worth it dinner! I will be making this again! Thank you.
Fatemah R. December 20, 2019
I don't use alcohol in cooking. What could I substitute for the Madeira or can I just leave it out?
Mary P. December 23, 2019
I just made this and used some red and sherry cooking wines, and it turned out fantastic! I will often opt for cooking wine v. the real stuff because I like the flavor better. I was going to use burgundy, but was out. I bet that would be tasty as well. Good luck!
Jim March 27, 2020
I would substitute the amount of Madeira called for with about 1/2 the amount of a high grade Balsamic Vinegar.
Angelag83 June 2, 2020
I was concerned about the amount of balsamic so I reduced to 3 tblspn, did a hard reduction and added chicken stock. It was awesome!
kris December 20, 2019
Not familiar with Madeira wine, so many varieties. Please be more specific since the ingredients are few.
Steve G. December 20, 2019
I always assume a fairly generic, not terribly expensive, not terribly sweet Madeira Like Rainwater. It has the classic oxidative notes that work so well with onion and other savory things.
Erin A. December 20, 2019
I use the Rainwater Madeira as well! It's perfect for this pasta, but agree any generic Madeira should work.
j March 27, 2020
Sandeman, Blandy's or Leacock are worth the search and the expense.
Cara C. December 16, 2019
Please do not take it personally that someone rejected the onions. I love French onion soup & lots of cooked onions, however, as I’ve aged they no longer like me & sadly I no longer can eat them. A VERY few of them are ok but not lots. Cream cheese is the same. Aging is the pits!
Beth B. December 16, 2019
I'd love to make this for Christmas but would need to cook the day before. This recipe seems to lend itself to "make-ahead" - has anyone tried? Would you suggest I add the Madeira the day before, or as a final step when I rewarm before serving?
Eric K. December 16, 2019
Beth, that's actually a great tip. I often make the onions in advance (even just go ahead and do the Madeira step), then later heat it up—I'm ashamed to say, in the microwave—and toss with pasta or spread onto toast.
Beth B. December 17, 2019
Thanks, Eric! This will make Christmas Day easier, and I think an extra batch to keep in the refrigerator sounds like a great idea!
Mary E. December 17, 2019
I had a lot leftover and think the dish was as good or better the next day and even several days later.
Daeg December 15, 2019
Based on my experience, you definitely have to assume more than one hour for the onions to jam. Otherwise, you may be disappointed.
Dana December 15, 2019
Really want to try this recipe. It sounds special. I can totally relate to saving special things for special people. I feel like that when I share food from my garden. People either really appreciate it or they don't. And when they don't, I never share with them again. I remember a friend telling me a week after I gave him fresh beans, that he had them in his fridge and how would I recommend cooking them. A week later! That was the last time I gave him anything from the garden.
I gave a loaf of rustic bread to a neighbor. Fresh from the oven. She called three days later to thank me. She told me that she and her husband had cut into it to have with their dinner that night and had really enjoyed it.
I take care of a friend’s chickens when she’s out of town, and of course the eggs from the four chickens become mine. A good friend dropped by. A good enough friend for me to give her four warm eggs, with quite a fanfare. She phoned six days later to say their scrambled eggs had been wonderful that
Jim December 15, 2019
Our go to favorite recipe (from Food52!) is the Pork Shoulder Ragu. We use half Fenugreek Seeds and half Fennel Seeds, as well as double the amount called for of Hot Oil from our local Chinese restaurant. Nothing will make your home smell more welcoming and mouth watering!
Valerie M. December 15, 2019
Loved this recipe. Developed a serious LOVE for these onions a few years ago and the pasta is a cool idea. I cook the onions on my Barbeque in the back yard over low indirect heat in an oversized pan and stir occasionally making the onions more annoying (in a good way) to the neighbors than me. Delish. Thank you. Val in Las Vegas