This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
Italian Cipollini onions in a balsamic glaze — This sweet and savory cipollini onion recipe makes the most delicious, elegant pearl onion substitute. Serve as a side dish or topping for pizza or pasta.
Tiny, sweet Italian cipolini onions show up in the fall in farmer’s markets and grocery stores, and this is an easy, elegant way to cook them.
Because they’re naturally sweet and tender, I love to caramelize them in butter and tangy-sweet balsamic vinegar.
This is essentially a pan-roasted cipollini agrodolce recipe — sweet-and-sour baby onions, Italian-style. Think of this easy side dish as a twist on the traditional bowl of Thanksgiving pearl onions.
I have to admit I’ve never been a fan of those pearl onions – they often taste watery, bland and have an unappealing texture (I’m trying hard not to use the word “slimy”).
Instead, these onions are browned in butter, then braised on the stovetop with a little sugar, balsamic vinegar and water.
The liquid in the pan reduces down to a syrupy glaze that’s a little bit sweet and a little bit sour. You end up with little nuggets that are tender, savory and perfectly balanced with tangy sweetness.
What are cipollini
Botanically, cipollini are in the allium cepa family, just like yellow, white, red and green onions. The word for onion in Italian is cipolla.
Words with the -ini suffix in Italian describe something that is tiny, teeny or otherwise diminutive in size, which means cipollini (also spelled cipolline) are literally cute little onions.
They’re an Italian heirloom variety shaped like flat, plump discs, almost like mini versions of Vidalia onions that have been squashed.
Their papery skin comes in shades of red, yellow and white, but I’ve only ever seen the yellow and red ones.
What do cipollini onions taste like?
You’ll find that cipollini taste a bit sweeter and milder than everyday yellow onions or pearl onions. They’re definitely worth seeking out if you’re an onion lover.
How to peel:
- Put them into a pan of boiling water for 2 minutes.
- Drain, cool slightly and trim off the top of the onion with a small knife.
- Slip the skins off.
What to substitute for cipollini onions:
Cipollini can be found in the produce section of most large supermarkets, usually in the early to late fall months. If you can’t find them for this recipe, you can use red or yellow pearl onions instead.
Ways to serve
This dish is a great side dish for Thanksgiving and fall feasting, but wait—there’s more!
- Toss glazed and chopped cipollini into a mushroom ragu sauce for pasta.
- Serve over creamy Parmesan polenta (so good!).
- Roughly chop the onions and use as a pizza topping.
Balsamic Glazed Cipollini Onions (Cipollini Agrodolce)
- 1 1/2 pounds (675 g) cipollini onions
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/3 cup (75 ml) water
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or rosemary leaves
- Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Drop in the onions and boil 2 minutes. Drain and cool slightly.
- Use a small, sharp knife to slice off the top of the onions, then slip off the skins. Trim any hairy roots, but leave the stem end intact so that the onions don’t separate. If the onions are larger than 1 1/2-inches diameter, slice into halves or quarters.
- Heat the butter and oil in a medium (8-10-inch) nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter stops foaming and begins to smell nutty, add the onions to the pan. Cook 5 minutes, or until the onions are browned, stirring occasionally.
- Sprinkle the onions with the sugar and salt. Pour the water and vinegar over them (the pan will sputter). Turn the heat down to medium and cover the pan. Cook 5 minutes.
- Uncover the pan and continue cooking until the liquid in the pan looks syrupy and has large bubbles, another 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with the thyme and serve.