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Sweet-and-Sour Little Onions (Cipolline in Agrodolce)

Modena's aceto balsamico dates back at least to the 11th century, when a written record reports the delivery of a barrel of the extraordinary vinegar to Emperor Henry III as a coronation gift. For centuries, the aceto was made by the local families only for their own use, with the barrels often a prized inclusion in a young woman's dowry.

Here, the aromatic vinegar is combined with sugar to create a rich sweet-and-sour brown glaze for small onions, a favorite dish both in the birthplace of aceto balsamico and in Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna's neighbor to the north. Serve warm for the best flavor as an accompaniment to roast pork or turkey.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lb. pearl onions
  • 2 cups meat stock
  • 4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions:

Bring a large saucepan three-fourths full of water to a boil over high heat. Add the onions and cook for 30 seconds. Drain and place under cold running water to halt the cooking. Drain again. Using a small, sharp knife, trim off the root ends and slip off the skins. Do not cut the onions too deeply or they will fall apart.

In a large, heavy fry pan over medium heat, combine the onions, stock and butter. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are partially cooked, about 30 minutes.

Uncover the pan and stir in the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, shaking the pan occasionally, until the onions are very tender when pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Add a little warm water if needed to keep the onions moist.

Transfer to a serving dish and serve warm.
Serves 6.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Series, Savoring Italy, by Michele Scicolone (Time-Life Books, 1999).