I have not come across a lot of dishes that can be served as an appetizer, side dish or added to a salad, AND to top it all, can be served either hot or cold. To my surprise, sweet and sour baby onions is one of those dishes. As an appetizer, you can have it with bread, and as a side dish, it’s a perfect complement to lamb or fish.
We first had sweet and sour baby onions in Emilia-Romagna, a region in the north-east part of Italy. In the heart of this region is the province of Modena, well-known for their quality balsamic vinegar (among other things; like PARMIGIANO REGGIANO!). As expected, they use balsamic vinegar to make this dish. Just to satisfy my curiosity, I made this with red wine vinegar as well. The balance of the sweet and sour can be adjusted by adding more sugar or honey. But the glaze on the baby onions are not as dark (and sticky) as when I used balsamic vinegar. A good balsamic vinegar also has a ‘cherry like’ sweetness to it – this adds more depth to this dish than a red wine vinegar.
I also did a couple of different things with this recipe. I added raisins and toasted pine nuts to add more texture to the dish (my personal preference, of course :-)). I use a tiny amount of sugar than usual because the raisins are also sweet. (Note to self: Try it with sultanas next time; they’re a bit less sweet than raisins :-)).
If you hate onions, rest assured that baby onions are not as strong (or as potent ;)) as their bigger counterparts. But even the big ones, once they have caramelized, its taste completely transforms into something else. So, don’t be wary and give this dish a try. You might be in for a surprise! 🙂
- 750 to 850 grams baby onions peeled, but kept whole
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 and 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 to 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 to 1 tbsp sugar
- 1/4 cup pine nuts toasted
- 1/4 cup raisins
Put water in a medium pot and bring to a boil.
Put all baby onions and turn down the heat. Keep the water on a simmer. Cook until the onions are tender, around 15 to 20 minutes.
Drain the onions and pat them dry with a clean kitchen cloth.
Heat the butter in a medium pan, over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, drop the onions and stir to coat them evenly with butter.
Season with salt and keep tossing the onions until they turn brown, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Pour some of the balsamic vinegar and sprinkle some of the sugar. You must keep tasting from this point, and adjust the amount of vinegar and sugar accordingly. Remember that adding the raisins later will provide more sweetness.
Keep shaking the pan until the sugar dissolves and the vinegar boils. Keep it boiling for around 3 more minutes, while you continue tossing the onions until you see the syrup forming (and thickening).
Add the raisins and some of the toasted pine nuts. Mix for a minute to combine and take the pan off the heat.
To serve, drizzle the onions with a bit of the syrup on top and sprinkle the remaining pine nuts.
- If you want to use red wine vinegar instead of balsamic, you should only use half the amount called for.
- Remember not to add the entire amount of sugar and balsamic vinegar. You must keep tasting and adjusting, because it all depends on the type of balsamic vinegar that you are using. For this recipe, I used a creamy (and thick) kind of balsamic vinegar.