There are family recipes that never leave us: this is one of mine. It always reminds me of the book ‘Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant‘, because it’s the kind of meal that you crave without realising, and that fills you in more ways than one. When I was a kid, my family would often go to my grandmothers house of a Sunday for lunch. Somehow her traditional Sicilian dishes always felt so home-y, and she usually pulled one of them from her bag of culinary tricks.
As a kid, I didn’t understand why this dish was so delicious yet so simple. I remember being told it was called simply ‘spaghetti with onions’, and when I questioned whether that might not be a bit odd, I was told ‘if you cook the onion for a long time it becomes sweet, and it’s really good’.
I didn’t then know that this is called caramelisation. Technically speaking, what it means is that when onion is cooked slowly with constant heat, something called the Maillard reaction occurs. The sugars in the onion break down into simple sugars, and this change in the sugar structure creates a sweet taste & caramel-type colour.
A true Sicilian peasant meal, this caramelised onion & parmesan spaghetti is light on ingredients yet big on taste. Don’t be deceived by the almost-too-simple ingredient list; here, properly caramelised onions and piquant parmesan create the flavour rather than rounding it out.
Perfect for when you have more time than money, this is a lovely meal to cook of a Sunday afternoon while teaching young ones some cooking skills. And if you’ve a big family, you can always double the ingredients & feed a small army!
Here’s How to Make It
Peel then chop the onions. Make the pieces of a moderate size, as they’ll shrink & soften with cooking.
Place the butter and oil in a large, deep frying pan over low-medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the onions and stir to coat.
Cook gently over a low heat until caramelised. ‘Low & slow’ is the name of the game here: the heat needs to be sufficient for the onion to cook, but not so much that it browns. Stir every 3-4 minutes throughout the cooking process.
The onion needs to be cooked for 1-2 hours. As you can see, the result is a golden-coloured sauce with onion that is neatly cooked through. Remove onion from heat then boil your spaghetti until al dente.
While the spaghetti is cooking, grate the cheese and finely chop the parsley.
Once the spaghetti is cooked, drain it then add it to a large mixing bowl with the onion (add the ingredients in layers makes for easier mixing). Add the cheese & parsley one small handful at a time, mixing as you go. Salt to taste, if desired.
Caramelised Onion & Parmesan Pasta
- 1 large frying pan
- 1 saucepan
- 1 mixing bowl
- 4 onions, large
- 100 grams fresh parmesan cheese
- 250 grams long spaghetti
- 50 grams butter
- 1/3 cup oil
- salt to taste
- Peel and chop the onions. Make the pieces a moderate size.
- Add the butter and oil together in the frying pan over a low-moderate heat.
- Once the butter has melted, add the onion and stir to coat.
- Cook the onion until caramelised. Stir every few minutes so that they don't catch, and adjust the heat if necessary. This should take around 1 1/2 hours. Remove from heat.
- Cook the spaghetti until al dente- follow the instructions on the packet.
- Meanwhile, grate the cheese and chop the parsley.
- Drain the spaghetti once it's cooked, then mix everything together in a large mixing bowl. Salt to taste.
- Plate up and serve with an extra sprinkling of cheese and parsley on top.