The sweet and sour flavor has always been part of Venetian cuisine, ever since it was introduced by the Jewish community, as one of the countless contributions made by the long and fruitful relationship established between the Jewish and Venetian people, throughout 10 centuries of history.
It is a definite and decisive flavor, which is usually liked or disliked, and is part of my DNA not only because I myself am descended from a Jewish-Venetian family, but because I believe it is one of the most representative of traditional Venetian cuisine.
When I think of sweet and sour, I automatically think of onions, an ingredient that abounds on Venetian tables and which is also used in the most famous dishes such as sarde in saor or bigoli in salsa. What these dishes have in common is that the onion is gently wilted for a long time, until it almost caramelizes releasing naturally its sugars.
The recipe I’m sharing with you today isn’t a traditionally Venetian recipe, but its flavor represents a little bit of everything I really like in the kitchen, and the fact that it’s a perfect accompaniment to cheese (another thing I love) makes it a must-try delicacy and maybe even an idea for a last-minute DIY holiday gift.
The perfect onions to use for this recipe are Tropea quality, a historic Italian variety, originally from Calabria, cultivated along the Tyrrhenian coast for over two thousand years. Tropea onions have an elongated shape, very fleshy, red on the outside but light pink-white on the inside, and their main quality is that they are naturally rich in sugar.
If it gets difficult for some of you to find this specific quality of onion, know that you can always use other varieties with similar characteristics.
Acquaviva onions, for example, are another great Italian variety particularly good to make this compote. Characterized by a flat shape and a very sweet taste, they are really special, so much so that I started growing them in my garden.
My advice for a good result of the recipe is to slice the onions not too thinly, add a pinch of baking soda at the beginning which, although not strictly necessary, helps the process of caramelization of the onions, and finally cook the compote over very low heat and stirring often. Consider that once cooled down the compote tends to firm up a lot, therefore regulate the cooking process by taking care not to let the liquid part evaporate too much.
Moreover, Tropea onions are usually sold with their dry foliage that resembles raffia, and that can be very cute to reuse as a string to decorate jars especially if you want to give them as gifts.
Here, then, is the recipe!
- 1 kg of Tropea quality onions
- 450 g of brown sugar
- 150 ml of balsamic vinegar
- 1 pinch of baking soda
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- Peel and wash the onions and slice them not too thinly.
- Put the onions in a large pot, add the baking soda and let them wilt over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the balsamic vinegar and continue cooking for 10 minutes.
- Add the salt and sugar and cook for 30 minutes over low heat. The compote is ready when it appears caramelized, not too thick but not too liquid either.
- Put into glass jars, close tightly with the cap, turn upside down, and cover with a blanket to facilitate vacuuming. Allow to cool completely before uncovering.