I seem to be cooking more dishes from my mother's repetoire of late and these white onions are the star of a simple yet fundamental recipe in the Emilia–Romagna kitchen called Friggione.
I've seen quite a lot of variations of this dish that include potato, sausage, garlic, peppers, carrots - when I think about it, just about everything has been added but these additions speak to the excess of modern times not to the true nature of the dish.
It's a sauce that relies on three ingredients - onions and tomatoes and time. Think back to when these dishes were created, in kitchens with wood burning stoves that ran all day. Making friggione was a brilliant way of utilising that low constant heat and staple ingredients. The amazing flavour of this dish comes from the very slow cooking of the white onions - they almost melt and release a sweet onion juice and when you add in the tomatoes, they too break down and intensify in flavour.
1 kilo white onions, very finely sliced
500 grams ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
Note: if fresh tomatoes are not in season, replace with Italian canned tomatoes
Pour a little oil and add a large knob of butter into a large, heavy based pan - place over a gentle heat. When the butter has melted, add in the white onions and a good sprinkling of sea salt and give them a good stir. Let them ever so slowly start to wilt and break down but they must not colour - this part of the process should take at the very least 1 hour but you should be aiming for 1½ to 2 hours.
Once the onions have cooked, you can then add in the tomatoes - continue this slow cooking for at least another hour, making sure you give the mixture a stir every quarter hour. If it seems to be getting too thick, you can add a little water to slacken it.
You'll know when it's ready by the way it looks - the colour will be homogenous, this luscious rich, deep red and the strands of onion will be visible but on eating, they will almost just dissolve in your mouth.
This sauce can be stored in the fridge in a sealable container - use it in sandwiches, as a pasta sauce, as an accompaniment to cooked meats.
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