Some time ago, my mother lamented the depletion of her jar of sweet-sour cippolini, which she’d brought back from a trip to (Italy? Slovenia? somewhere). After scouring the local shops of my small city to no avail, I took a critical tasting and a casual (and no-doubt inaccurate) translation from the original jar and thought “Gee, I wonder if I can make these?”
Turns out I can, and so can you.

Finding loose cippolini at a local market, I gave it a whirl, first reducing inexpensive vinegars with sugar and seasoning, then simmering the cippolini until they were knife-tender. The resulting onions were a little crisper than the tender, suave texture of the original, but I decided to leave them firm in case they softened as they stood in the fridge.

Mom was ecstatic at the gift, and even more so at the prospect of having an infinite source of the goods. I’ve asked her for constructive criticism (did they soften? is the flavor too sharp? too sweet? how did they age?) to improve future batches of cippolini agrodolce*, but her only feedback has been along the lines of “Yum!” and “More!” and “I’m running pretty low, y’know.”

I guess I know what she wants for Christmas this year.

cippolini agrodolce*:

1 c. white wine vinegar
1/3 c. sugar
1 TBS turbinado sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
6-8 peppercorns
bay leaf
1 c. balsamic vinegar (not true, thick, sticky balsamic vinegar, but the cheap grocery-store mockery)
1 lb cippolini, peeled and trimmed

Open a window or two. The smell of boiling vinegar will make your eyes water and will linger for days in a closed space.

Bring to a boil all ingredients except balsamic and onions; stir until sugar is dissolved. Add onions and balsamic and simmer until onions are slightly tender, 20-30 minutes. (Test this with a paring knife. You should get slight resistance, but not crunchy crispness.)

Remove onions to sterile jar. Simmer liquid until slightly thickened, then pour over onions. Seal, let cool, and refrigerate. I suggested Mom let them sit several days to a week, to soak in the flavor. As long as the onions remain well-covered by the vinegar reduction, they appear to keep indefinitely. Use your instincts, your common sense, and your nose.

Use these to add a spark to salads or hot vegetable dishes. Blanched green beans with sweet-sour onion garnish? Roasted beets rolled in butter with cippoline agrodolce? Baby greens, glazed pecans, dried cherries, and slivers of cippolini in a simple balsamic dressing? Yes, please!

Slice or coarsely chop them to include in sandwiches and casseroles. Warm French or Italian bread with melty mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, and sliced cippolini? Country white bread or egg bread, grilled with cheddar and sweet-sour onion? Frittata of mushroom, spinach, and tangy agrodolce onions? Oh, mama.

I suspect the vinegar reduction could be used for a tangy dressing, or reduced with stock, broth, or even cream to make a simple sauce for meat, poultry, fish, or roasted vegetables.

Or drain and warm whole cippolini in olive oil or butter to serve as a side dish, or garnish a cheese plate with them.

I love condiments like this — they’re like little jars of deliciousness kicking around the fridge. It’s like having a Get out of dinner FREE card in your pocket when you can toss together something simple and add a a lovely, unexpected ingredient to make it special.

*I’m getting the spelling of agrodolce from Google, so I count on those of you who might know better to correct me if necessary.

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