Some of the best recipes come from farmers and gardeners. Simple, inexpensive, and easy to make, these versatile recipes exemplify la cucina povera. A classic Bolognese recipe, Friggione or Frizòn, is a sauce of braised onions with fresh tomatoes. In Bolognese dialect, when a dish is called Al Frizzan, it means un piatto di recupero, or a dish of recovery, meaning to use up bits of ingredients and transform them into a wonderful dish. Onions are usually plentiful, inexpensive, and easy to store for long periods, so it is a natural way of using onions for something more than mild flavor in a soffritto.
This humble dish is such an integral part of local cuisine that the Accademia Italiana della Cucina registered the recipe with the Chamber of Commerce in Bologna on January 26, 2004. A very old recipe dating back to at least the 1800's or earlier, adaptations to today's cooking are made. Olive oil and butter replace lard. Originally, it was an onion sauce with an accent of fresh tomato, but nowadays, cooks add more tomato. Including only fresh ripe tomatoes that are peeled, seeded, and then chopped, is essential. Canned tomatoes or tomato concentrate do not provide the lightness this dish requires.
Make this sauce in large quantity for many uses. Fill a broad saute pan with sliced onions, then simmer over low heat up to 2 1/2 to 3 hours. It’s convenient for us because in a restaurant, there is always someone willing to stir the onions so they don’t burn on the bottom. At no time during cooking let the onions become dark brown or stick to the bottom of the pan, so add spoons of water for moisture as needed. If you partially cover the pan, adding water may not be necessary or not until the sauce has simmered for 2 hours.
Make this sauce with sharp acidic white onions. (Do not select “sweet” onions such as Spanish, Vidalia, or Walla Walla. While they are wonderful for many recipes, if used here, this sauce becomes too sweet). Use as many onions as you like, cutting them into 1/4-inch (6.35-mm) thick slices. Remember that when finished cooking after 2 1/2 hours, large quantities of sliced raw onions reduce by almost 80% in volume. Handy Reference: Total simmering time for this small quantity written below is 1 hour. When finished, this sauce is creamy and delicate. Cool down, cover, and refrigerate. Its flavor rounds out in 1 to 2 days, and remains great for several days.
Great ways of serving Friggione:
* Main Dishes: Serve as a sauce or as a bed for roasted or grilled meat, hamburgers, poultry, fish, Burrata mozzarella, or poached or hard-boiled eggs.
* Making broth? When finished, do as the Bolognesi do, and serve Friggione with a ladle of broth and boiled meats and poultry as the main dish. Transfer the meat, chicken, or vegetables to a platter. Serve Friggione as the condiment.
* Toss with pasta, serve warm or cool.
* Spread on crostini and panini.
* Serve as a thick soup. Ladle into bowls. Place crostini in the center, perhaps with melted cheese on top.
* Combine with spezzatini, sauteed cubes of veal, pork, chicken, or turkey. Simmer until the meat or poultry is tender.
Makes 1 1/4 cups (296 ml). Cooking time is 1 hour. If doubling ingredient quantities, double cooking time.
1 1/2 pounds (680 g) sliced white onions (4 medium to large onions = 5 cups volume or 1.18 liters volume sliced onions)
Coarse or kosher salt to taste
Granulated sugar to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil
Water as needed
6 ounces (170 g) fresh ripe tomatoes, peel, seed, chop
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Marinate: Toss the sliced onions with a small spoonful of salt and sugar in a bowl. Traditionally, equal small amounts of salt and sugar are added. Depending on how this sauce will be served, you may prefer to omit or add only a pinch of sugar. Cover and allow to macerate for 2 hours. Reserve both the onions and the juices released so they cook together creating the sauce.
Braising: In a large non-stick pan, over low heat, add the olive oil and butter. When the butter is melted, add the sliced onions with their juices and thoroughly coat them with the oil and butter. Partially cover the pan. Slowly saute for 30 minutes stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and burning. Some cooks maintain the blonde color of the onions over low heat, while other allow the onions to become a light hazelnut color over low to medium heat – this is your choice depending on how you serve this sauce. Add a spoon of water as needed to prevent burning but do not add a lot of water where it totally covers the bottom of the pan.
Halfway through cooking – Add the chopped tomato pulp and continue simmering for another 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add a spoon of water as needed to prevent burning. The friggione is done when the onions and tomatoes are softened and creamy.