I’m thoroughly scattered as I write this, so forgive me if my thoughts trail off a bit. So many things swirling in my mind, between work stuff, school matters with the girls, and the impending move. Now that I think of it, as I glance at the boxes around the apartment, it’s no wonder I feel off kilter. This in-between phase is only temporary, I must remind myself of that to stay on track.
One thing I’d like to share that has kept me somewhat grounded is a new cookbook I bought a few weeks ago. The moment Five Quarters arrived, I knew it would become a favorite. I’ve written about Rachel, the author behind this wonderful book, here before. Her pasta & potato soup filled my belly and soul with comfort when it needed it most earlier this year. Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome continues that stabilizing journey, providing solace when things feel a bit unbalanced.
At the moment, my kitchen is topsy turvy, most of its content packed away, so I’m making due with what I left in the cupboards. Let’s just say it’s a lot of constant washing of dishes and pans since I cook two to three times a day. The simplicity of Rachel’s recipes, combined with my resourcefulness for making due, makes the current cooking situation less stressful (also, expect to see more cocktail recipes here!). In reading Five Quarters, I’m reminded of my Italian American roots in some of the recipes—spaghetti with garlic and oil was a staple growing up, as was pasta with broccoli. I’d written them both off as simple, forgetting how satisfying they are, too.
There are, of course, more hearty recipes, but at their core, there’s nothing fussy about them. Take these onions. Sure, they require a commitment of time to cook, and some patience to peel the cipollini, but there’s nothing technically complicated standing in your way from tasting the best onions you’ll ever eat. All you need is the willingness to slow down a bit. Once you set them on the stove, a slow simmer does all the work, leaving you time to toil away at a project around the house.
I should note that I didn’t follow Rachel’s recipe exactly. You know how I always say you should a recipe completely to set yourself up successfully? Well, my quick scan missed the four hour soaking time for the onions. I was too eager to wait, and wanted these to go with dinner that night, so I skipped it all together. I’ve heard soaking onions in water takes some of the abrasive flavor out of them, and am guessing that was the goal here. Still, I was willing to take my chances. I also scaled the recipe back to a third of its original serving size, not expecting the kids to eat them. I was wrong on that one—Virginia fell fast and furiously for them, too. It was a race to the end to swipe the last bits of sauce clinging to the bowl with our bread.
There are so many things you can do with these onions beyond smashing them with a fork into a crusty baguette, as we did. I drizzled a bit of the syrup sauce into my salad dressing—whoa, what a game changer. I can also see tossing these with hot pasta, and finishing with a grating of Pecorino Romano cheese. And let’s not forget how amazing caramelized onions taste with a nicely grilled or pan fried steak.
The possibilities are truly endless for these braised cipollini onions.
One last thing to note—Five Quarters was first published in the UK. That is the edition I ordered (Book Depository has free worldwide shipping to 140 countries). Should you choose to buy this edition, it is exclusively in metric measurements. If cups and volume are your preference, then you’ll want to look for the US printing, titled My Kitchen in Rome. Both the same wonderful cookbook, just tweaks to some of the language and measurements (the US version has been carefully converted into cups and volume measurements).
Okay one last, last note. Cipollini onions can be a bit tricky to find, but I highly recommend seeking them out. I found mine at Whole Foods. Rachel suggests using shallots, if need be, and they’re certainly easier to peel. One taste of a cipollini, though, and you’re ruined for life, realizing that nothing is a real substitute for their natural sweetness. As for me, I’m stalking Whole Foods daily, awaiting their next delivery.
Braised Cipollini Onions
- 200 grams cipollini onions peeled (10 to 12 onions)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 garlic clove finely chopped
- Sea salt
- 1 teaspoon granulated natural cane sugar
- Red wine vinegar
- Finely chop one of the onions (leave the rest whole).
- Add the oil to an 8-inch skillet. Heat it over medium-low flame until shimmering. Add the chopped onion and garlic. Cook until slightly softened and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add the remaining whole onions, stirring to coat them with the oil. Season with salt, and add the sugar, making sure to give it a good stir. Add enough vinegar to cover the onions halfway. Add enough water to increase the liquid amount just enough to almost cover the onions. Increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, and cover the pan loosely with a lid (some steam should be able to escape from the pan). Let the onions cook slowly, 1 to 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has mostly evaporated, leaving a thick, sticky sauce in the pan. Serve as part of an antipasto platter, or with a baguette to smear the onions onto. Save any remaining sauce once the onions are eaten—it adds a nice flavor to homemade salad dressing.