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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Some Possible Uses of Lipig:
- As a topping for a flat bread (pizza), like the classic French Pissaladiere
- As a filling ingredient in a quiche/tart
- As the foundation of French Onion soup
- As a flavour enhancer in soups and stews
- As the basis for onion gravy
- As a pasta sauce