Braised Onion Sauce

January 6, 2015

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes:

This recipe is lightly adapted from James Beard's "Beard on Pasta." He originally calls for two sticks of butter—which you are welcome to do—but I find (as Molly at Orangette has too) that it works just as well with less. I use pappardelle, but feel free to switch that up. It's only important that you make this dish often.

Kenzi Wilbur

Serves: 4 to 6
Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 1 hrs 15 min


  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 pounds yellow onions, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup Madeira
  • 3/4 pound hot cooked pasta (I used pappardelle)
  • 1 pinch flaky salt, for serving (if needed)
  • 1 handful grated Parmesan, for serving
In This Recipe


  1. In a large (12-inch) skillet, warm the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and translucent.
  2. Stir in the sugar and a pinch of salt, and reduce the heat to low. Cook the onions slowly for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Patience is key! When they're done, they should be dark, caramelized, and borderline jammy.
  3. Stir in the Madeira, cook for a few more minutes, and then add the cooked pasta to the pan. Shower on a generous dusting of Parmesan, and using two large spoons, toss the pasta well with the sauce.
  4. Serve with additional grated Parmesan, and flaky salt if necessary.

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Reviews (76) Questions (0)

76 Reviews

Mandy S. February 10, 2019
Never tire of this recipe. Take the time to braise it slowly, we use a non stick all clad sauté pan. Works like a charm
Amanda S. December 11, 2018
My husband is a pasta fanatic/snob and he absolutely loves this dish! I’m not so much of a pasta person, but this is hands down my favorite recipe that I’ve ever made. This is going into our meal rotation!
Sherry W. September 12, 2018
This is soooo good. I have made it twice in the last month and it is on the menu today. It has a permanent place in my meal rotation.
sethchan March 7, 2017
Have made this several times—it's delicious. The most recent time, I decided to go full-on James Beard with his two sticks of butter just to be decadent. However, the extra butter diluted the onion flavor. The Food52 version is better!
Leandra February 13, 2017
just made this last weekend when I truly thought I had NOTHING in the house. The epitome of a pantry dinner because it's way more than the sum of its parts. Didn't even have madeira or a substitute and it was still incredibly delicious!! cannot wait to make again
Travel December 28, 2016
This is one of the best things I have ever eaten! So good! But so rich I can't eat it very often. What a treat.
Emily October 30, 2016
It's pretty mis-leading to call these braised onions as the pan isn't covered as the onions caramelize - I only realized halfway through they should be uncovered and took much longer. Otherwise, delicious.
Jan D. January 19, 2016
Made this for the 1st time and used Marsala wine. didn't have Madeira and my husband and myself loved, loved, loved it. Will make on a regular basis. I didn't measure the amount of pasta, used whole wheat, and it came together great for me. I can still taste the swetness of the onions. YUM<br />
booglix January 13, 2016
In what world does 3/4 lb of pasta yield six servings? I don't do ten-course tasting menus here at home...
LeadingLatte January 13, 2016
To be fair, it estimates 4—6 servings and it's easily scaled up. I believe I used more pasta when I made it, but it just depends on your desired pasta/onion ratio.
Amanda S. December 11, 2018
We were three people eating this, and we each went back for seconds. We did have small, very simple side salads, but for us, 4-6 servings is perfectly accurate. We are not light/picky eaters by any stretch of the imagination; I think the richness of the butter adds some weight to this recipe.
tia January 13, 2016
I cheat on this one and caramelize the onions in a crock pot. It takes about 8 hours, but they are lazy, lazy hours. I also use Marsala rather than Madeira because that's usually what i have on hand. My sister mixes the onions with ricotta and seasons before mixing it with the pasta, too.
Courtney C. December 22, 2015
Loved this - so comforting. The pappardelle goes a long way - I used too much (more than the recipe called for). It was still delicious, but next time I want more sauce!
Linnea S. October 21, 2015
This recipe is absolutely delicious!! I even have dreams about eating it, that's how much I love it! I did use regular white wine instead of the Madeira, but it turned out fantastic anyway!
LULULAND October 18, 2015
Sounds good but would pale dry sherry work here? I usually have that on hand.<br />thanks
beejay45 October 18, 2015
Sure. Not quite the same, but still good.
Doug D. August 29, 2015
Betsy T. August 29, 2015
Do you cover the pan to caramelize the onions?
Smaug January 8, 2016
cutthecarrot April 20, 2015
Used 8 T. butter and no sugar. Lovely. More than the sum of its parts.
Dianne J. March 4, 2015
I did find that you need to turn the heat a bit higher to get caramelization in an hour. Otherwise, it just takes forever.
Nancy H. March 3, 2015
thanks for this. a keeper. sweet and tasty. recently retired and finally pulled out the pasta machine (have had for years, but never used). pasta + this recipe came out beautifully!! One little tip - don't use red onions - still tastes great!, but colour is not as appealing :-)
ahstone March 2, 2015
ummmm---two hours and still waiting for anything close to dark brown. The recipe seriously understates time to finish.
Smaug January 8, 2016
One hour is about right, you must have had the heat too low. It can be fairly high for the first 15 min. or so, until the onions have started to brown.
Bleuchese C. February 7, 2015
This was a major disappointment for me. I'm no stranger to carmelizing onions as I make French onion soup at least once a month. This just tastes like caramelized onions on pasta. Nothing more nothing less.
Smaug January 8, 2016
That's what it is- should be clear from reading the recipe.