06 March 2014

AUNTIE PASTA: An Onion a Day

CHIAVARI, Italy – This is a story about onions, not just any onions but the onions that come from a tiny borgo called Treschietto in the province of Lunigiana which is  half in Liguria and half in Tuscany.


The onions from Treschietto are kind of special. They are small, round and pink and because they are kind of sweet, you can eat them raw in a salad or cook them. Onions are incredibly good for you which is why they have been around so long.  Some food historians claim onions have been part of the human food chain since 3,500 BC. That’s a long time. 

The Greeks brought them into Italy and after the Greeks the Etruscans and Romans did their fair share of cooking with them. That may be how they ended up growing in Treschietto as it, like other towns in the area, was first an Etruscan territory and then it was settled by the Romans. The story is, and you know how these stories go, that the borders of Lunigiana, which includes Treschietto, are the same as an ancient territory of Luni. It was called Luni because the people who lived here then worshiped the moon. Luni is close enough to luna, which is the Italian word for moon, so it could all be true.  

Pink Onions from Treschietto
But to get back to onions and today’s recipe for a very simple, but quite delicious onion tart, it strikes me that simple dishes like this one really speak to the heart of Italian cuisine. Like many other dishes the Italians make in this age of high speed everything, it was developed centuries ago  and is one of the threads that connect the Italy of today with the Italy of yesterday. To me, that’s what makes Italian food so special.

Torta di Cipolle
Caramelized Onion Tart with Olives

Serves 4

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced (yellow onions will work just as well)
2 tablespoons fresh thyme or 1½ tablespoons dried thyme
All purpose flour for dusting
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
¼ cup oil-cured small black olives, (the wrinkled ones) pitted and halved lengthwise
4 to 6 anchovy fillets (those preserved in olive oil)

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Melt butter with oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add onions, thyme and anchovy filets and cook until onions are golden and soft and the anchovies have dissolved, about 10 minutes. Stir often.   

2. On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry and trim to an 8 ½  by 15 inch rectangle. (Or you can use a regular pie pan if you want, the shape doesn’t matter). Place the pan on a baking sheet, put it in the oven and immediately reduce temperature to 400 degrees. Bake until pastry begins to rise, about 12 minutes. 

3. At that point put the onions in a single layer on top of the pastry, leaving a 1 inch border around the edge. Top with the olives. Bake for another 15 minutes, cover edges of pastry with foil if they are browning too fast. Let tart sit for 10 minutes or so and then cut and serve.

Variations on the Theme: You can add thinly sliced tomatoes or sliced mushrooms to this tart on top of the cooked onions and then add the olives, which is what they do in the South of France where this tart is called Pissaladiere.


  1. have you used regular pie crust or does it have to be puff pastry?

  2. Hi Bonnie, thanks for your question. You can use a regular pie crust but truthfully the puff pastry crust tastes better for this recipe. You should be able to find ready made puff pastry in the grocery store - if not, it's not worth making. Way too much trouble, then I would go with a regular pie crust.