Southern Italian Sweet and Sour Onions (Cipolline Agrodolce)

The small white onions (or oversized pearl onions) in this dish are famous in Calabria, the small city in Southern Italy that sits on the “toe” of the Italian “boot”. Although many delicious versions of these sweet-and-sour onions are eaten throughout Italy, it’s the original Calabrian slow-cooked version that brings out the unmatched natural sweetness in the onions. The vinegar adds a sour contrast. Agrodolce, by the way, means “sweet and sour” in Italian. A recipe for a shorter cooking time is included in the recipe notes below.

Cipolline Agrodolce – Sweet and Sour Onions

Large, peeled pearl onions can be found in the freezer section of most markets. It can be made with fresh but it is a project (see notes). It takes no time to prepare but several hours of slow cooking to tease out the onions' natural sweetness. A much faster version is possible and quite good (see Notes). Cipolline Agrodolce goes well with grilled and roast meats or poultry.
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Course: Condiment, Side Dish
Cuisine: Italian, Mediterranean, Southern Italy
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 35 minutes
Servings: 6
Author: My Hungry Traveler


  • Large heavy skillet


  • 3 lb Small white onions (frozen peeled or fresh)
  • ¼ cup European butter
  • tbsp Red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp Sugar
  • ¼ tsp Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper


  • Heat a skillet large enough to hold the onions in a single layer. Add onions, butter, and enough water to come up the side about an inch. Cook over medium heat until water evaporates, turning the onions occasionally until they soften, about 20 minutes. Add a little warm water if the water evaporates before onions are soft.
    Reduce heat to low and add vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper. Turn onions again, cover, and cook slowly for 2 more hours, turning onions from time-to-time and adding 1-2 tbsp water if necessary.
    Onions are done when they have turned a rich, glazed dark brown and can be pierced easily with a fork. Serve hot.


  • If using fresh onions, remove skin by making an X on the root end and dipping them in boiling water for 15-20 seconds, remove, and peel off the paper layer.
  • Cooked onions may be refrigerated and warmed up in a microwaved or pan right before serving.
  • To make the quicker version, heat 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil in a 12-inch skillet. Add onions and cook until they turn golden brown. Pour off oil and return to heat. Add 1/4 cup red wine vinegar to the onions along with 2 tbsp sugar, and salt & pepper to taste. Stir until sauce thickens, 2-3 minutes. 


Calories: 165kcal | Carbohydrates: 23g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 0.3g | Cholesterol: 20mg | Sodium: 167mg | Potassium: 336mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 11g | Vitamin A: 241IU | Vitamin C: 17mg | Calcium: 55mg | Iron: 1mg

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