Lipig

While on holiday last month we happened one day – quite by accident and without a camera(!) – to detour into Borgo a Mozzano, an old town on the Serchio river north of Lucca, Tuscany. At first, we thought it was market day. There were lots of stalls set out along the streets and in the squares. As we walked along, taking in the produce and handcrafts, we began to notice an inordinate number of stalls selling nothing but onions. All sorts of onions – sacks of standard yellow and red globe onions, piles of smaller shallots, and braided strings white papery bulbs of garlic. Decidedly odd and getting odder as we walked, seeing yet more onions. Finally, at the end of the street, we noticed a shop window displaying a poster for Tradizionale Fiera dell’ Aglio e delle Cipolle – Traditional Garlic and Onion Fair – dated that very day. Now all those onions made sense!

borgo-a-m_onion_fair

And, what should my copy of this month’s Royal Horticultural Society’s magazine, The Garden, be featuring on its front cover? Yes, you guessed it – onions. Onions and their allium counterparts are essential in many recipes, yet few of those recipes list it as a primary ingredient. After seeing the cover of The Garden and to pay homage to Borgo a Mozzano‘s onion fair, it was fated that I make something with onion as its main ingredient.

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I didn’t have to search long as one of my favourite ways of showcasing the fabulous properties of the humble onion is lipig. Lipig is a Breton word for a thick Breton “sauce” made with rose-tinted Roscoff onions, named after the Breton town where they are grown. These are the same onions that were peddled by bicycling sellers from Brittany who began coming to England in the 19th century. They were known in English as “Onion Johnnies” who – in caricature – were dressed in striped shirts, wore berets (set at a jaunty angle) and had strings of onions slung around the handlebars of their bikes. Oignons à vendre!

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Lipig (Onion Marmalade)
Based on a recipe in Susan Loomis’ French Farmhouse Cookbook (see my review). There are only two ingredients that slowly transform into a slightly sweet and sticky versatile onion preserve. Although Roscoff onions are traditionally used, standard (easily assessable) yellow onions can be used. Also see below for suggested uses of lipig.

  • 1 kg onions (approximately 6 to 7 medium onions)
  • 20g unsalted butter (or more – see comments on post. below)

Peel and thinly slice onions into half moon shapes.

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In a heavy bottomed pot, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the onions, stirring to break them up and to allow them to be coated with the butter. Cover, turn the heat down to low and cook for one and a half hours, stirring occasionally. It is optional to use a heat diffuser, which I find particularly useful in preventing the onions from cooking unevenly or sticking to the bottom of the pot.

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After the initial hour and a half, remove the lid. The onions will have reduced and have released some of their liquid. Continue cooking with the lid off for another hour and a half or even two hours, stirring occasionally.

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The onions are ready to pot up when they have reduced significantly and have turned a golden brown colour. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. It will firm slightly in the refrigerator and lose its gloss due to the cooling of the butter content, but once heated it will return to a glossy state. Will last a few months.

lipig_prep4

Some Possible Uses of Lipig:

  1. As a topping for a flat bread (pizza), like the classic French Pissaladiere
  2. As a filling ingredient in a quiche/tart
  3. As the foundation of French Onion soup
  4. As a flavour enhancer in soups and stews
  5. As the basis for onion gravy
  6. As a pasta sauce
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38 comments

  1. A very timely post as I have just purchased a 10 kilo bag of borwn onions, which are quite cheap at this time of the year. I have never made caramelised onion with butter and in a covered pan, nor have I kept them so long. I must dig out a heat diffuser as I agree, this would be necessary with long, slow cooking. I recall seeing a doco on those onion vendors who used to croos to England with their huge plaits of onions.
    Never leave home without trusty camera!

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    • It was a very happy coincidence that we just happened to wander into the town centre on the very day of the onion festival. Onions are so taken for granted – we use them all the time, but never showcase the. This is a seriously good recipe.

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    • It was purely by chance we decided to walk into the town when we had just gone to pick up a few things at the Penny Market. I’m glad we did. The poster we photographed was still up on the community bulletin board in Dezza the next day. I hope you managed to get to the recent squash festival at Pescaglia.

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  2. Just made this onion dish, after reading the post earlier. I was a liittle suspicious and so doubled the butter to 50 gr. and along the way, I wondered whether they would develop that lovely caramel flavour or if they were simply stewing/steaming. I was wrong. The final product is sensational, and a much betler taste that the usual caramelising method. If I don’t hoover these straight from the pan, they will make it to the pizza tonight, with a few anchovies and oilves. Bretagne via Provence?

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    • My grandmother was fond of saying everything was better with more butter. I’m sure she got it from advertising jingle. I’m in the process of making a second batch and have upped the butter to 30g. Yes, it is really, really good. i think that the traditional onion pizza is made with onions slow cooked in olive oil – makes sense for a Provence dish. Enjoy!

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      • The version I usually make, ie la pissaladiere, uses olive oil. Now I have eaten the buttery version, am very happy. Added some thyme along the way. Then the pizza took a turn further south with some bocconcini and white anchovy.

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    • I may be dislexic – people my generation were never tested, but I do find spelling a real chore. I have vivid memories from grade school of being kept inside during recess to learn my spelling list. Thank goodness for auto spell check! I do love words, however, and the dictonary is one of my best friends!

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  3. Onions I say wistfully……..when I used to eat onion this is exactly how I started French onion soup. Don’t you love stumbling across local festivities when you travel, a true joy!

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    • It was pure serendipity! We were going for a quick trip to the Penny Market and thought why not walk up into town and see what it is like off the main commercial drag. We just happened to be on the day of the fair. Later saw the poster on the Dezza community bulletin board. Perhaps they should post a bit further afield? At least Bagni di Lucca.

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  4. I have a sudden craving for slow-cooked onions now… Do you think your recipe would work cooked in a very low oven? I’m still struggling to get to grips with cooking on an aga, and a few hours with the lid up on top just isn’t possible.

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    • Not having an Aga, that form of cooking is totally alien to me. But, if I recall, there is a low oven (as apposed to the high oven), which might do the trick. First with the lid on and then with it off. You could only try. Onions are inexpensive, so it wouldn’t be the end of the world if the experiment didn’t work.

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      • It’s a form of cooking that’s still totally alien to me too… but you’re right, a few ruined onions is a price worth paying if I get a pan of tasty onion marmalade in the end!

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  5. The western style of cooking onions in fat is new to me, and I have been having fun playing with it. This recipe is a great example of it. The Indian style of cooking onions would want the browning and charring. Thanks for another lovely post.

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    • I guess it is second nature to me to put in a little oil or butter when sautéing onions. Interesting how, not only ingredients differ from culture to culture, but techniques as well. In fact, I think it is in the techniques were the real differences lie.

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  6. Very cool. That looks great. Good suggestions too. I wonder if the storage method is the same for regular storage onions. One of my first posts was about the onions from the miracle black dirt of my home town, where a large percentage of onions in the US come from. http://sercocinera.com/2012/12/10/a-personal-festival-of-onions-and-lights/. And not to take up too much of your time, this post has pics of the actual onion harvest. Every year my town has a garlic and onion festival. It’s embarrassing and yet I”m proud of it. http://sercocinera.com/2013/10/23/fennel-chorizo-soup/ I have a very weird connection to onions. My newest obsession is vidalia onions. They’re so sweet and fleeting, but my grandma and I sit in her kitchen and eat them raw like apples.

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    • Thanks for the links. We get “super-sweet” onions here for a brief time and I’ve always wondered if they are vidalia onions. They certainly look like them. Also, interesting to know other places honour the humble onion with festivals!

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  7. What a fortuitous discovery! I’ve been thinking of doing this in the slow cooker but wondered about not sautéing first. Your method has set my mind to rest. And, yes the iPhone is great for pictures when you are out and about.

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    • Let me know how it works out in the slow cooker. Probably more energy efficient, although I am thinking of getting a countertop induction hob. Saw one at my local fishmonger where the have a huge pot of fish stock on the go – using all the heads, bones and skin from the fish they fillet for customers. Birthday coming up and I might just indulge in an iPhone. Love my iPad, but just a bit too bulky for carrying around all the time!

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      • Oh, I will let you know how it goes! And yes to an iPhone – the pictures will upload through that cloud thing to your iPad (or Mac in my case) and it is just so seamless and easy. And you always have a camera in your pocket or bag!!

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  8. What a great post and recipe! I’ll be sure to give it a try — and soon. I love caramelized onions and these sound like they’d be even better. You’re stumbling upon the onion fest reminds me of discussions I’ve had with friends and family who are planning trips to Europe. Many take guided tours, seeing the countryside from a bus window with scheduled stops along the way. As I explain, yes, you’ll “see” everything but experience very little. I doubt if that onion fest is part of any tour’s itinerary but I’m sure you’re glad you saw it. I’ve memories of a number of similar experiences that I cherish.

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    • John, I couldn’t agree with you more. Yes, on guided tours you see lots of things, get to tick off boxes on a list of important sites, but you never experience the place. We tend to rent houses/apartments in the countryside (usually away from touristy crowds) for at least two weeks and then just explore the surrounding area by car or local transport. We also shop locally for food, but also go out to restaurants now and then. If your friends want to experience the real rural Garfagnana, I can’t think highly enough of Sapori e Saperi run by Erica (Heather) Jarman – which I link to in my earlier post on pecorino making. I also love caramelised onions and have just made another batch – a tart this time…or perhaps soup.

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      • Thanks for your recommendation. I’ve saved i with my Italy tourist “stuff” for future reference.
        We would travel very well together. You’ve pretty much described how I’ve toured the south of Spain and Italy a few times. Guided tour? Perish the thought. 🙂

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    • I bet this would be fabulous with Vidalia onions you get in Southern USA. But, standard yellow onions work well, too. It’s a good thing to have on. hand in the refrigerator for a quick soup or quiche.

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