Zuppa di cipolla rossa di Tropea (Tropea red onion soup) – kind of

We were in Ojai, California last weekend and I went to a small yet very diverse farmers’ market on Sunday morning. I came across some interesting onions that I knew I’d seen before, but I couldn’t place them. The farmer called them “torpedo onions” and described them as very spicy. I bought a bagful, determined to figure out where I had seen them before.

Upon getting home and with the help of Google search, I remembered these as Tropea onions or Cipolla rossa di Tropea — sort of. I say “sort of” because the real thing grown around Tropea, Italy in the Calabria region of Italy is a European Union IGP (Protected Geographical Indication) product. That is, if it’s not produced in the exact manner and region specified by the EU, you can’t call it a Cipolla rossa di Tropea. (Think of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese vs. the stuff in the green can.)

These onions are credited with a lot: increasing life span, aiding sleep and increasing sexual performance. For the purposes of this recipe, we are just making Italian onion soup. As the farmer mentioned, they are spicy. I can’t remember my eyes watering quite so badly as when I cut these onions. Regular red onions are a poor-but-worthwhile substitute.

This recipe is adapted from Lida Bastiannich’s 2009 Cookbook – Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy. I have really enjoyed her region-specific recipes, and her section on Calabria is quite good. I recommend this cookbook for your library.

This recipe serves 6 people.

Ingredient and Direction:

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 2 pounds of Tropea onions (also called torpedo onions) or other sweet onions – halved or quartered (if the onion is large) and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 @ 28-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes
  • 4 cups of water
  • 6 slices of thick crusty bread
  • 6 slices of provolone cheese
  • 1/3 cup grated pecorino cheese for topping

Special Equipment:

  • A heavy-bottomed soup pot (such as Le Creuset)

  1. In a large heavy-bottomed pot, add the olive oil and set on medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and let sizzle for about 1 minute. Be careful not to burn. Add the onion slices and sprinkle with the salt. Stir into the olive oil with a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to low and slowly cook them for about 15 minutes – stirring frequently. The onions will reduce in size and begin to develop a light browned color.
  2. Add the tomatoes to the pot. Then add 4 cups of water using some water to wash out and add the remaining tomatoes juice in the can. Stir in with the onions. Bring the pot to a boil, then cover with a lid and reduce heat to low and cook for 45 minutes. Uncover and cook for another 15 minutes, letting the soup thicken a bit.
  3. When ready to serve, toast or grill the bread and immediately top with the provolone cheese to melt a bit. Alternatively, you could toast the bread quickly under the broiler, then add the cheese and brown and melt the a bit. Add bread with cheese to the bottom of a serving bowl. Ladle the soup mixture over the bread. Top with the pecorino and serve.

Join the Conversation

  1. I’ve only ever had those onions in Apulia (not far from the Calabrian border). Very cool post!

    Joe, if you can, please send me an email via the email I use to comment. I’d love to be in touch with yall… best (and great post!), Jeremy

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