Carabaccia

Carabaccia (Tuscan Onion Soup)

In primi piatti, Soups, Toscana, Winter by Frank Fariello25 Comments

Carabaccia is an ancient Tuscan onion soup, going back to the Renaissance. They say it was a favorite of Leonardo da Vinci—and that, as for so many other classic dishes,  the recipe was brought by Catarina de’  Medici to France, where it evolved into the soupe à l’oignon we all know and love today.

You may be surprised at the taste of this soup. Like me, you may even find it a bit odd, at first. We moderns are not very accustomed to the sweet-and-sour-and spicy flavor profile, which is rarely found in Italian cookery today but was very typical of its time, as was the use of ground almonds as a thickener.

Ingredients

Serves 4

  • 1 kilo (2 lbs) red onions, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • 100g (4 oz) of ground almonds
  • 2 Tbs of wine vinegar
  • Ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tbs of sugar or honey
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 liter (1 quart) broth, typically vegetarian and preferably homemade
  • Freshly grated Tuscan pecorino or Parmesan cheese
  • A slice of toasted bread per person

Directions

Mix the ground almonds with the vinegar and a dash of cinnamon and set aside to macerate.

In a large pot, preferably of terracotta or enameled cast iron, braise the onions in a generous glug of olive oil with a pinch of salt, as gently as you can possibly manage, until they are well reduced, translucent and falling apart soft. Take care that they don’t darken too much or burn as they braise; if need be, add a bit of water along the way to make sure. Usually, though, the onions throw off a great deal of their our liquid and you may actually need to let this evaporate at the end. This initial braising is the key to the success of the dish—it coaxes out natural sweet flavor of the onions and provides the foundation of the soup. Taste the onions—they should be meltingly soft and intensely sweet. The whole process will take something like 45-60 minutes. Don’t rush.

When the onions are done, add the macerated almonds and mix them into the onions. Let the onions and almonds sauté for a few minutes, then add the sugar or honey, and a good grind of black pepper, and sauté for a few minutes more.

When all the flavors have melded, add the broth and simmer the whole thing gently for about 3o minutes or so. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

To serve, lay a slice of toasted bread in the bottom of each bowl, then ladle over the onion soup. Top with grated cheese and, if you like, a sprinkling of cinnamon, sugar and/or a drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately while the soup is still piping hot.

Notes

The red onions are typically Tuscan; if you have access to the famous red onions of Certaldo, near Florence, then you will experience carabaccia at its most authentic. Modern versions of this dish tend to omit the ‘old fashioned’ elements—the almonds, vinegar, sugar and cinnamon—in favor of a purely savory approach, much more in line with contemporary Italian tastes. Meat broth can be used instead of vegetable, if you like; some recipes forego broth altogether, relying only on the natural liquid of the onions, with perhaps a bit of water to moisten things if necessary, for a very thick soup that is almost like a vegetable stew.  In some recipes, individual soup bowls, topped with cheese, are run under the broiler or in a hot oven until bubbly, in the French manner.

Other modern recipes often call for a bit of carrot and celery are added to sauté along with the onions, and some call for the addition of other vegetables in season, like peas or fava beans in the spring. And some people like to crack an egg into their carabaccia at the last minute, just long enough to let the whites set, leaving the yolk still runny.

Carabaccia (Tuscan Onion Soup)

Rating: 51

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 4

Carabaccia (Tuscan Onion Soup)

Ingredients

  • 1 kilo (2 lbs) red onions, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 liter (1 quart) broth, typically vegetarian and preferably homemade
  • 100g (4 oz) of ground almonds
  • 2 Tbs of wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbs of sugar or honey
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated Tuscan pecorino or Parmesan cheese
  • A slice of toasted bread per person

Directions

  1. Mix the ground almonds with the vinegar and a dash of cinnamon and set aside to macerate.
  2. In a large pot, preferably of terracotta or enameled cast iron, braise the onions in a generous glug of olive oil with a pinch of salt, as gently as you can possibly manage, until they are well reduced, translucent and falling apart soft. Take care that they don't darken too much or burn as they braise; if need be, add a bit of water along the way to make sure. The whole process will take something like 45-60 minutes.
  3. When the onions are done, add the macerated almonds and mix them into the onions. Let the onions and almonds sauté for a few minutes, then add the sugar or honey, and a good grind of black pepper, and sauté for a few minutes more.
  4. When all the flavors have melded, add the broth and simmer the whole thing gently for about 3o minutes or so. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
  5. To serve, lay a slice of toasted bread in the bottom of each bowl, then ladle over the onion soup. Top with grated cheese and, if you like, a sprinkling of cinnamon, sugar and/or a drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately while the soup is still piping hot.
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Frank FarielloCarabaccia (Tuscan Onion Soup)

Comments

  1. Pingback: How to make béchamel sauce

  2. Nick

    Made this yesterday, deliciously sweet and perfect for a cold winter’s day. My much loved and deeply missed Sicilian gramps would’ve loved it

    1. Author
      Frank

      That’s great, Nick! It’s always a kick to hear that readers are cooking from our recipes—and even more of a kick when they like the result! Thanks for letting us know.

  3. Nancy/SpicieFoodie

    I had no idea that the French soup had it’s origins in this Italian soup. I have to say that I’m really intrigued by the “sweet-and-sour-and spicy flavour profile”. In Czech Republic they also make onion soup but it resembles more the French. Thanks for sharing this Frank, can’t wait to give it a taste.

  4. Elaine Parker

    I was once served a version of this Carabaccia soup, but without a piece of bread or any cheese. Instead, it was sprinkled with crumbled amaretto cookies, which was a marvelous touch!

  5. Chiara

    Un’ottima zuppa invernale !qui le cipolle rosse sono quelle di Tropea, non ho mai assaggiato quelle di Certaldo, se le trovo provo la tua ricetta ! Buona settimana

    1. Author
      Frank

      Ciao, Chiara! Sai, non c’è bisogno di aspettare finché non trovi le cipolle di Certaldo. La ricetta va benissimo anche con quelle di Tropea, senz’altro…

  6. Phip

    Frank
    Yours is quickly becoming one of my favorite Italian food blogs. It expresses exceptionally well the
    heart of the Italian home kitchen at least as I have come to understand it thanks to Maria Cau and Armida Latella who showed the meaning of La Mano Felice.

    1. Author
      Frank

      Phip, thanks so very much for the kind words—and most of all, your readership! So glad you’re enjoying the blog.

  7. Eha

    Interesting story ~ interesting and simple recipe I just have to try soonest even if Down Under around me the temps are hitting 38-40 C :) ! Like the vinegar/honey mix in the soup!!

    1. Author
      Frank

      Ah yes, I realize that our seasons are inverted… I do try to feature some summer foods once in a while for our readers Down Under, of which we are quite a few, I’m happy to report! Thanks for your comment and your readership!

  8. Giovanni Martines

    Tank you Frank i follow you from long time and no doubt you are fantastic.

    Kind regards

    Giovani

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