Big Little Recipes

Have Noodles, Onions & Butter? Make This.

December 21, 2021

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. That means five ingredients or fewer—not including water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (like oil and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Inspired by the column, the Big Little Recipes cookbook is available now. Like, right now.

An onion knows when it’s in danger. That’s why when you cut it with a knife, or blitz it with a food processor, or pulverize it with a grater, it fights back. It wields sulfur, absorbed from the soil, as a weapon, as its own knife or food processor or grater, sharp enough to make you weep.

A skillet and stove change all this. “The various sulfur compounds react with each other and with our substances to produce a range of characteristic flavor molecules,” explains Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking. With fat, heat, and patience, the sharpness in onions softens into something as sweet as candy.

But who said sharpness was a bad thing? An insult is only an insult if you interpret it as an insult.

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Top Comment:
“When I lived in the UK I used this handy conversion chart. Free, downloadable, just put it up on fridge. A snap! ”
— Anne

One of our community’s most beloved recipes is James Beard’s Braised Onion Sauce, which starts with a pound and a half of onions and almost a stick and a half of butter. You cook the onions for an entire hour, until they become unrecognizable, closer to jam than anything else.

Unsurprisingly, another one of Beard’s most iconic recipes also revolves around onions. But in this case, they aren’t cooked for an hour. They aren’t cooked at all. In the dish, which he swiped from his business partners Irma Rhode and Bill Rhode, they’re sliced into slivers and turned into tea sandwiches.

Especially with onions, cooked and raw are opposites that couldn’t be farther apart—or closer together. Like Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap or Vanessa Hudgens in The Princess Switch. If you look closely, it’s just the same actor in a different outfit with different makeup and a different accent.

Of course, that is what makes it so impressive.

These buttery noodles take a similar approach. You sauté an armload of onions until they relent into savory, soothing mush. Then, just before you sit down at the end of a long day, as you are tossing pasta with butter and more butter, you add a couple spoonfuls of minced raw onion, brash and reviving, like a splash of vinegar.

It is not one or the other. It is both. And isn’t this what all of us want? For someone to see us—really see us—for all our prettiness and ugliness and want to stick around anyway? To think our glossy, sautéed sweetness is beautiful. And that our stinging, rude sharpness is beautiful.

Albeit swift enough for a weeknight, this dish showcases the full personality of the onion. The one that only people who really love it get to see.

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Put down those long grocery lists. Inspired by the award-winning column, our Big Little Recipes cookbook is minimalism at its best: few ingredients, tons of flavor.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Dianne J. May 16, 2022
This is delicious, but it doesn’t suffer if you eliminate a couple of tablespoons of butter. I made it with the toasted walnuts and parm. It would benefit from something like a splash of balsamic vinegar to cut the richness. A great, simple recipe that can be adapted many ways.
flitcraft March 17, 2022
Oh my goodness! This is amazing! I picked chives, thinly sliced scallions (because my chives are just little babies at the moment) and a tablespoon of nduja. Seriously good!
kiwicotage January 25, 2022
Use a mandolin for cutting.
Deborah December 28, 2021
looking forward to making this with one or another of the variations but just wondering, in the interest a more healthy recipe, if substituting EVOO for most of the butter would be a big no-no
Bonnie December 23, 2021
This looks amazing. I always loved toasted nuts in pasta and pizza. I’ve got some onions in my pantry that are calling me now. Thanks Emma!
AgaD December 22, 2021
It would be super helpful if you added weights to your recipes. Volumetric will only take you so far and as someone who does not live in the US, I literally have to look up what the hell is an ounce every single time. More and more food writers provide various options for recipe measurements. I absolutely love your magazine, and in particular the simple little recipes, and this would take that love to a new level.
Anne December 22, 2021
When I lived in the UK I used this handy conversion chart. Free, downloadable, just put it up on fridge. A snap!
HillJ December 21, 2021
We actually do this using fresh leeks in winter..and grilled artichoke hearts in summer.
No tears cutting onions, stick whole peeled onions in the freezer a few mins then slice.