Cipolline in umido (Baby Onions Braised in Tomato Sauce)

Cipolline in umido

Onions are everywhere in Italian cooking. They form part of the flavor base for just about every savory dish you can think of but, besides that, they make for a perfect contorno because they go with just about anything. The most common onion side dish is no doubt cipolline in agrodolce, baby onions braised in a sweet-and-sour sauce, but they are also wonderful made in umido, or stewed in tomato sauce. The dish incredibly easy to make, very tasty and goes beautifully with roasted or grilled meats in particular.


Serves 4-6 as a side dish

  • 500g (16 oz.) baby onions (see Notes), trimmed and peeled
  • 350ml (12 fluid oz.) passata di pomodoro or canned tomatoes passed through a food mill, plus enough water to cover the onions
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • A pinch of sugar (optional)


Cover the bottom of a pan large enough to hold all the onions in one layer with olive oil. Add the onions and roll them around so they are all covered with the oil. Add the passata di pomodoro and enough water, if needed, to just barely cover the onions. Season generously with salt and pepper (and, if using the sugar).


Bring the onions to a simmer over moderate heat, cover and then lower the heat. Let the onions braise for  20-30 minutes or so, until the onions are perfectly tender and the tomato sauce is well reduced. (The oil should have visibly separated from the tomato and the sauce should cling to the onions.) If the onions are done before the sauce has sufficiently reduced, uncover the pot and increase the flame until you’ve reached the consistency you want.

The onions can be served immediately or made entirely ahead and reheated when you want them.


The most typical onions for this treatment are the somewhat squat, ‘button’ shaped baby onions:


But if you can’t find them, regular old baby or ‘pearl’ onions will do fine. Frozen pearl onions lend themselves to this treatment very nicely as well. In Spring, fresh onions are very nice this way; if they are large, you could split them into wedges, making sure that each wedge has a bit of root end on it to keep them together. Even yellow onions will work, although I would definitely use a pinch of sugar in that case to help bring out their natural sweetness and, of course, you’ll need to increase the cooking time a bit.

There are variations on this dish, adding some vinegar for tartness or even pancetta for extra savoriness, but I much prefer the very basic, ‘elemental’ recipe.

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31 Responses to “Cipolline in umido (Baby Onions Braised in Tomato Sauce)”

  1. 30 March 2013 at 17:29 #

    Little bags of cipolline have just started making their way into our market. I’ve only had them agrodolce…this will be a new way to try them.

    • 31 March 2013 at 09:00 #

      Well worth a try, Karen! Happy Easter!

      • 31 March 2013 at 09:36 #

        Thank you Frank, the same to you.

  2. 29 March 2013 at 15:55 #

    Never think of just onions as a side dish, but I really like this, and the fact that you can use frozen pearl onions in a pinch, makes it an easy side to always have on hand, along with canned tomatoes. Good one Frank!

    • 31 March 2013 at 09:01 #

      Thanks, Lori! This one’s definitely a keeper. Very tasty and really no trouble at all.

  3. 28 March 2013 at 17:27 #

    I like onions a lot and this looks like an excellent way to prepare them.

  4. 27 March 2013 at 02:32 #

    Una ricetta fantastica e deliziosa! :D Complimenti, vengo dal blog di Chiara e ti seguirò con piacere! Un abbraccio!

  5. 26 March 2013 at 14:01 #

    Cosa ci prepari per Pasqua? Auguri gustosi.

    • 31 March 2013 at 09:06 #

      Una pizza rustica, uova sode in salsa verde, tagliatelle alla crema di asparagi, agnello e patate, carciofi fritti e la pastiera. E voi?

      Buona Pasqua!

      • 4 April 2013 at 12:37 #

        Ho visto solo ora la tua risposta, scusa. Hai passato un po’ della tua pasqua a rispondere, sei proprio un perfetto blogger, oltre che cuoco. Ed ora Buona Primavera, sperando che arrivi, qui a Firenze è freddo e piovoso come non mai.

  6. PolaM
    26 March 2013 at 01:25 #

    Where did you find them? Cipolline in agrodolce is one of my favorite sides, but I can never find the right cipolline!

    • 31 March 2013 at 09:08 #

      In our local supermarket, Balducci’s. It used to be an Italian deli that turned into a supermarket chain. It has lost most of its Italian-ness but once in a while you can find some interesting items like these… Once found cardoons (cardi) there, too!

  7. ciaochowlinda
    25 March 2013 at 12:55 #

    The cipollini are delicious but I find them tedious to peel. However, eating them is another thing – and eating them with these tomato sauce looks terrific.

    • 31 March 2013 at 09:10 #

      Thanks, Linda! Yes, they can be a bit tedious, although I find these squat ones a lot less of hassle than the typical pearl onion. One reason I like them better! Of course, there’s always pre-peeled frozen ones…

  8. 25 March 2013 at 07:26 #

    this will certainly go well with grilled foods – small, baby onions are in stores now and it is a good time to buy them… and I like the pinch of sugar, some folks think it is to tone down the acidic tomato but momma said it was to get you coming back…

  9. 25 March 2013 at 05:13 #

    Mmmh! Love anything onion.

  10. 25 March 2013 at 00:42 #

    I have never had onions prepared in this manner. They sound great. I am quite certain I will enjoy them,. Thanks for the recipe, Frank!

    • 31 March 2013 at 09:11 #

      You’re welcome, Adri! They’re definitely worth a try.

  11. 24 March 2013 at 16:17 #

    I have never had these with tomato sauce. I am truly deprived. Love the looks of the sweet baby onions. I guess I’ll just have to be satisfied with pearls!

    • 31 March 2013 at 09:14 #

      The pearls will do fine, Claudia! Very nice just a bit more trouble to peel, I’d say…

  12. 24 March 2013 at 12:48 #


    I love recipes like this – so simple, yet so tasty. I’ll be trying this soon, I think with some nice sweet Videlia onions.

    • 31 March 2013 at 09:14 #

      I’m sure Vidalias would be wonderful made this way! Thanks for stopping by!

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