Onions are everywhere in Italian cooking. They form part of the flavor base for just about every savory dish you can think of but, besides that, they make for a perfect contorno because they go with just about anything. The most common onion side dish is no doubt cipolline in agrodolce, baby onions braised in a sweet-and-sour sauce, but they are also wonderful made in umido, or stewed in tomato sauce. The dish incredibly easy to make, very tasty and goes beautifully with roasted or grilled meats in particular.
Serves 4-6 as a side dish
500g (16 oz.) baby onions (see Notes), trimmed and peeled350ml (12 fluid oz.) passata di pomodoro or canned tomatoes passed through a food mill, plus enough water to cover the onionsOlive oilSalt and pepperA pinch of sugar (optional)
Cover the bottom of a pan large enough to hold all the onions in one layer with olive oil. Add the onions and roll them around so they are all covered with the oil. Add the passata di pomodoro and enough water, if needed, to just barely cover the onions. Season generously with salt and pepper (and, if using the sugar).
Bring the onions to a simmer over moderate heat, cover and then lower the heat. Let the onions braise for 20-30 minutes or so, until the onions are perfectly tender and the tomato sauce is well reduced. (The oil should have visibly separated from the tomato and the sauce should cling to the onions.) If the onions are done before the sauce has sufficiently reduced, uncover the pot and increase the flame until you’ve reached the consistency you want.
The onions can be served immediately or made entirely ahead and reheated when you want them.
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