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Archive for the ‘Sides’ Category

No, not tennis. Last week I was in Trinidad on a birding trip, enjoying warm weather, lush tropical scenery, over 170 species of gorgeous birds . . . and one terrific culinary specialty: Doubles.

Trinidad’s favorite street food, doubles are gloriously sloppy “sandwiches” made with bara, a kind of fried bread, and channa, curried chickpeas. Roadside stands serve doubles on a sheet of greaseproof paper, to be eaten in the hand, standing up. Here’s part of our group waiting to be served (but also keeping an eye out for any passing birds).
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doubles-stand

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The choices on offer were mild, medium, or hot. I had the medium, and Beloved Spouse of course had the hot. Each doubles (singular and plural both end in “s”) cost $4 Trinidadian, which is about 65ȼ US.
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trini-doubles

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They were amazingly good! The light, puffy bread, the tender, succulent chickpeas, the savory curry spicing, and the fiery hot sauce – together all just sang and danced on the palate. I immediately knew I’d have to try making doubles for myself.

And so I did. We got home from the trip on Thursday evening. Friday morning I studied doubles recipes on the Internet and selected different parts of them to make a version that I thought would work best. That afternoon I took a walk to Kalustyan’s, my local source of nearly every exotic foodstuff under the sun, and acquired a few essentials that my pantry lacked:
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3-ingredients

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Trinidad-style curry powder, which has no hot chiles, is milder than its counterparts in other geographic regions but very aromatic from ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, and allspice, in addition to the usual turmeric, coriander, and cumin. The region’s hot sauce is a real killer, made with the devastatingly hot Scotch bonnet peppers, plus vinegar, mustard, and papayas. The yellow pea flour is not in any of the doubles recipes I found online, but a cookbook I’d looked at in Trinidad and a few people I’d talked to there had told me it’s important for doubles.

So Saturday morning I started making the bara for a lunch of doubles. Not knowing if the pea flour would need different treatment, I cautiously used it only half and half with all-purpose flour. Additional dry seasonings were turmeric, cumin, salt, and black pepper.
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bara-flour-mixture

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When those were thoroughly mixed together, I stirred in yeast, warm water, and a little sugar to make a fairly soft dough, kneaded it, and set it aside to rise.
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bara-dough

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While the dough was rising I prepared the channa. That involved softening sliced onions and minced garlic in oil; adding the curry powder, water, chickpeas (canned and rinsed), cumin, salt, and black pepper; and simmering until the chickpeas were tender, which took about half an hour.
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channa

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Finally came the tricky part: shaping and frying the bara. Here I’m afraid I didn’t do too well. The instruction was to take walnut-sized lumps of dough and flatten them out to four- or five-inch rounds. Stretching them as thin as I could without their ripping apart, I still needed twice as much dough to achieve that size.
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forming-bara-2

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One internet recipe warned that if the rounds weren’t excruciatingly thin, flat, and oily, they wouldn’t come out with the right texture. And, alas, mine didn’t. I might have had the oil too hot, too, because though fried for only eight seconds on a side, they darkened in a way that the ones in Trinidad never did; and to the extent they puffed at all, it was in the middle, not around the sides.
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bara-frying

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The good news is that, while my doubles looked nothing like the ones at that roadside stand, they tasted quite good anyway. The bara were darker, denser, and heavier, perhaps from the pea flour. And too much of the channa’s liquid had cooked off. But a few dashes of the hot sauce added the needed moisture and completed a very lively overall flavor profile.
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my-doubles

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That’s nowhere near the true Trini dish, I fear (especially since it’s on a plate, not a piece of paper), but it was an interesting culinary experiment for me. I may well do it again, trying a few changes to achieve lighter, puffier bara.

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Beloved Spouse was in Italy this past week for a wine writers’ event, so I was making dinners for one. For these occasions I tend to feed myself things that I like much better than he does – which helps keep both sides of the family happy.

This time I had a new recipe that would be perfect for such a meal: Lentil Salad fabrizia-lanzawith Mint and Orange Zest, from Fabrizia Lanza’s Coming Home to Sicily, which I remembered as a dish my friend Hope served at a dinner some months ago, and which I liked very much. However, since Beloved Spouse regards most salads with a distinct lack of enthusiasm, I hadn’t yet found an opportunity to make it at home. But now, for myself alone, I had my double–0 designation!

For six servings, the recipe calls for two cups of green – but not Le Puy – lentils. I had to do some online research to be certain of the kind I needed here. That was a variety known as Laired green lentils – which, as you can see here, are not very green at all.

package

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But they were the right kind, and apparently their color can vary quite a bit. For the half recipe I intended to make, I picked over one cup’s worth of them.
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laired-lentils

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I rinsed them, put them in a pot with two cups of water, and simmered them covered until they were tender. When they had cooled, I found they had quadrupled in volume, yielding far more than my lone self wanted to deal with. So I put half of the half recipe’s worth of lentils in the refrigerator for another use and dressed the rest with a quarter of the recipe’s condiment quantities.

The first one of those was fresh mint. For the whole recipe, that was to be the leaves from “a large bunch” of the herb. I had no idea what a Sicilian cook would consider a large bunch. I do wish recipe writers would give measured amounts of their ingredients! I bought the 25-gram package that was what my local market offered.

mint

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I chopped up about 3 tablespoons of leaves and mixed them into the 2 cups of lentils. The quantity looked about right in comparison to the book’s photo of the dish. (I should know by now not to trust food photography!) I also added a teaspoon of grated orange zest, ½ teaspoon of dried oregano, 1½ teaspoons of olive oil, 1½ teaspoons of lemon juice, and a generous sprinkling of sea salt.
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lentil-salad

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I’d dressed the salad in mid-afternoon, so the flavors would have time to blend, leaving it at room temperature. Come dinnertime, I served myself a meal that, while it looked appealing to me, would have brought no cheer to the man who normally sits across from me at the dinner table: broiled chicken thighs, plain broccoli rape (neither of which he likes much), and the lentil salad.
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dinner-plate

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Quickly I became glad he wasn’t sitting across from me that evening, because the salad was a big disappointment. The mint presence was much too strong, and I couldn’t detect the orange peel and oregano at all. I tried fishing out the visible bits of leaf, but the flavor had permeated the lentils. I don’t know what kind of mint this was; the package label didn’t say. But it was extremely sweet and pungent, as if the lentils had been dressed with melted peppermint candies.

Puzzled by why my dish turned so much less pleasing than Hope’s, I asked her what kind of mint she’d used. Lo and behold, her salad had not been from Lanza’s recipe! Yes, we’d discussed the book that evening, but her lentil salad came from Made in Spain by José Andrés. At the time I hadn’t asked what recipe she’d used, so when I much later found the one in Lanza’s book, I just made the assumption.

Subsequently, I looked up the Andrés recipe on the Web. Aside from the lentils themselves, there isn’t a single ingredient in common between the two recipes. The Spanish one contains shallots, chives, garlic, bay leaves, green and red peppers, and sherry vinegar – all things I like a lot more than I like mint. I may have found my use for those other two cups of cooked lentils.

So we live and learn. Or not.

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Ratatouille

I can’t let a summer go by without making ratatouille at least once. Actually, I’d probably make it several times, but Beloved Spouse prefers the Italian style of vegetable mélange – perhaps because he usually ends up slicing, chopping, and mincing all the components. I like the Italian type too, but there’s a ratatouille recipe I love to make: a very complex one from the Cooking of Provincial France volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series.

VergeThis time I let BS off the hook, because I had found a different version of ratatouille that I wanted to try, and I was prepared to do all the knife work for it on a free afternoon while he watched a pre-season football game. The recipe is from Cuisine of the South of France, by Roger Vergé, the legendary chef of the Michelin three-star Moulin de Mougins restaurant in Provence.  So I approached this experience with high expectations, while BS readied himself for another season of dashed hopes.

Vergé calls it La ratatouille niçoise à ma façon and says that while the usual dish of that name “creates itself during a long slow cooking, taking about 2 to 3 hours,” his gives you “the advantage of keeping the freshness and texture of the individual vegetables.” That sounded attractive, even though my Time-Life book’s recipe (by the redoubtable M.F.K. Fisher) doesn’t cook for anything like that much time. So I gathered a half recipe’s worth of Vergé’s ingredients and set to work.
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ingredients

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Vergé is particular about the type of vegetables to use and the way to handle them. Peeling, seeding, and dicing the tomatoes were no problem, nor slicing up the green pepper and onion. Peeling stripes into the zucchini was attractive, and I duly cut them lengthwise and crosswise as indicated. Cutting up the eggplants – he specifies that long, slender type – was a bit of a poser, because he wants them in pieces “the size of your thumb.” For the size my eggplants were, the pieces would have had to be either fatter and flatter than my thumb or much skinnier than it. I went with fat and flat.

cut up ingredients

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First I cooked the tomatoes in olive oil in a very hot skillet for just 2 minutes and moved them to a plate. In another pan I softened the onions and peppers together in oil for 15 minutes and added them to the tomatoes’ plate. In yet another pan, with high heat, I was to brown the eggplant pieces in oil and drain them in a colander set over a bowl to catch the oil they’d give off. That was a problem.

eggplant

Flat on one side and round on the other, my eggplant pieces refused to brown evenly. Also, they absorbed all the oil, needed more, and gave none back. Same shape and same situation with the zucchini, last to be sautéed.

That was all the cooking any of the vegetables got. At dinner time I mixed everything together in a casserole, merely heated it through, and stirred in minced garlic and chopped basil leaves.

ratatouille 2

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It wasn’t bad, this ratatouille. Those vegetables always blend well together – though parts of the zucchini pieces had a faint flavor of char from my difficulty in browning them evenly. But the vegetables didn’t taste any fresher than they do in my preferred recipe. In fact, the flavors were a little muddled. And there wasn’t nearly as much tomato presence as I like.

The Time-Life ratatouille recipe uses twice the amount of tomato, cuts it in big strips, lays them on paper towels to absorb some of their liquid, and doesn’t cook them separately at all. Also, it carefully layers the individual vegetables in their casserole and simmers it covered for 30 minutes. That way, the vegetables exude a lot of liquid, but you keep drawing it off with a bulb baster and, at the end, boil it down to a luscious glaze that you pour over the ratatouille – which makes a dish that’s much prettier on the plate and far more interesting to eat.

So, though I wouldn’t turn up my nose at another dish of Vergé’s ratatouille if I encountered one somewhere, in my own kitchen I’ll stick with the version I love best.

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Long ago, when I first started doing Indian cooking, I couldn’t see the attraction of basmati rice. My only Indian cookbook insisted the so-fragile rice had to be washed in nine separate waters, soaked for exactly thirty minutes, and cooked only in one of three minutely specified ways. It seemed like far too much trouble to go to for rice – which, at the time, was only a minor dish in my culinary repertoire. What can I say? I was young and ignorant – and wrong.

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jaffrey vegetarianMany years and five more Indian cookbooks later, I’ve learned to appreciate the long, slender, pointy grains of basmati. Gone are the nine washes: A few rinses are all that’s called for now. Maybe the US is importing a cleaner, better grade of rice? Basmati still requires more care than ordinary long-grain rice, but its flavor and texture more than reward the effort. I used it in an excellent dish this week from my newest Indian cookbook, Madhur Jaffrey’s Vegetarian India.

I chose the recipe, Rice with Dill and Peas, partially to showcase the fresh English or shelling peas that I’ve been enjoying from my Greenmarket for the past few weeks. In a large pot, I browned thinly sliced onions in olive oil and gently stirred in the soaked and drained rice, garam masala, chopped fresh dill, salt, and water. I brought it all to a boil, covered the pot tightly, and put it in the oven for 25 minutes. I took it out, quickly tossed in a handful of blanched fresh peas, returned the tight cover, and baked for 5 more minutes. Out of the oven, the pot sat undisturbed for 10 minutes, after which I fluffed up the rice and served it.

rice peas dill

It was lovely. Perfectly done, with neither dryness nor excess liquid. You couldn’t taste the dill as such, but it, the onions, and the garam masala subtly blended into the flavor of the nutty, aromatic rice. The peas made an attractive color and textural contrast and added just the smallest touch of vegetable sweetness.

Following Jaffrey’s suggestion, I’d made a Carrot Raita to serve alongside the rice. This was a departure for me, nothing like the raita I usually make, which is soft curds of yogurt, grated cucumber, ground roasted cumin seeds, and chopped fresh mint. This one was a dense relish, made with a thick Greek-style yogurt, a lot of coarsely grated carrots, chopped green chili, chopped cilantro, sugar, and salt, with a final lacing of whole mustard seeds and coriander seeds sizzled in olive oil.

carrot raita

The raita was quite sweet from the carrots – actually a bit sweeter than we’d have liked – but it had an intriguing flavor, and it partnered excellently with the rice and peas. Because it was so thick, I thought maybe I’d chosen the wrong kind of yogurt (though it was made by Kalustyan, which ought to know!), but later research told me that Indian yogurt is indeed like that, so I guess I did it right. Next time I’ll just skip the sugar.

To round out the evening’s dinner, I added a small meat dish: a goat curry that I like to make, based on an easy lamb recipe from Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Cooking.

goat curry

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Warm-weather produce is finally getting into high gear. This week’s Greenmarket had plenty of strawberries (jam-making soon!), sugar snap, snow, and shell peas – and the very first zucchini. They come from a farm in southern New Jersey and are blessedly unlike the far-traveled, long-picked, grocery-store zucchini we’ve had to make do with for so many months.

Long-time New Yorkers may remember the days when stores labeled their best produce “Jersey fresh.” Whether it was corn or tomatoes or eggs, the soi-disant Garden State was thought to grow the best of it, and the taste of this batch of zucchini suggests that may still be so.

HazanI decided to honor my sweet new summer squashes with an elegant presentation: the Baked Stuffed Zucchini Boats recipe from Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook. It’s a lovely recipe, one that I’ve adopted in spirit for many years, but that I hadn’t followed precisely for nearly as long. It was time to revisit the source.
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My four zucchini were larger than the size called for, but perfectly fresh, firm, and tender. I snipped off their ends, halved them lengthwise, and carved out the centers with care, saving the pulp.

preparing

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I parboiled them in salted water until just beginning to soften. Actually, this part of my preparation was not quite faithful to the recipe. Marcella has you cut the zucchini into 2½-inch logs, hollow them out from end to end, leaving ¼-inch walls all around, and boil them that way, not cutting them in halves until much later. My way is easier, and it lets me dig out longer boats with less danger of piercing their hulls. I think it makes a more attractive presentation, with no difference in the flavor of the resulting dish.

The next steps were to make a cup of béchamel sauce and sauté a mince of onion, ham, and half the zucchini pulp.
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stuffing

 

I did that, though my zucchini pulp utterly refused to turn the “mellow golden color” that Marcella predicted. No matter – it softened and turned creamy, as it should. Then I stirred together the minced mixture, about two-thirds of the béchamel, a raw egg, and a few tablespoons of grated parmigiano. I gave Beloved Spouse the fun of grating in a big dash of nutmeg – a spice that he adores.

That was the stuffing for the boats, so after aligning them in a buttered baking dish I spooned in the stuffing, sprinkled on breadcumbs, and dotted with butter.
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oven-ready

 

The dish went into a 400° oven, in principle for about 20 minutes, but mine took closer to 40 before it developed the required light golden crust. Perhaps because the zucchini were bigger?

zucchini boats

(All those smudges around the sides of the dish are due to my overenthusiastic buttering. No food stylists around to pretty it up!)
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This was very fine food: richly creamy, but quite delicate and light on the palate. The zucchini flesh and the stuffing blended together beautifully, almost melting in the mouth. And the gentle flavors were subtly perfumed by the nutmeg; Beloved Spouse really liked that.

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I can’t imagine my pantry without dried beans. They’re an all-around useful, nourishing, delicious culinary staple. I always have several kinds on hand, and this week I added a new, extraordinarily good variety to my collection – of which, broadening the definition just a little to include pulses, I already had six kinds on my pantry shelf:

L to R: Santa Maria pinquitos, chickpeas, Midnight blacks, Castelluccio lentils, yellow Indian lentils, Domingo rojo reds

L to R: Santa Maria pinquitos, Umbrian chickpeas, Midnight blacks, Castelluccio lentils, yellow Indian lentils, Domingo rojo reds

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ChiliSanta Maria pinquitos are my all-time favorite bean for chili. I’ve written enthusiastically about them before, here and here. They’re small but they can hold their own among any strong or spicy flavors.

 

 

servedI love the flavor of chickpeas, and I use them in many guises, some of which I’ve written about here and here. These are an artisanal variety from Umbria.

 

 

black bean soup 2Midnight is a robust black turtle bean, which I usually use in Mexican dishes, such as here and here. They make especially good soups.

 

 

pasta with lentilsCastelluccio lentils are the best lentils I’ve ever tasted. A favorite way to serve them is in my own pasta with lentils recipe, and I’ve also written about them here and here.

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Yellow Indian lentils are actually skinned and split mung beans. I keep them for making moong dal, a mild, pleasant side dish in Indian meals.

Domingo rojo is a dark red bean that I bought last fall from Rancho Gordo. It’s supposed to be especially good for red beans and rice. I’ll be trying it one day soon.

CassouletNormally I also have white beans in the pantry: Great northerns or marrows, for cassoulets and plain American baked beans, but I’ve already used up this winter’s supply of those. And once I brought back from France some Coco de Paimpol, which is probably the world’s best cassoulet bean.

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SolfinosAnd now I have a new treasure to add to my collection: Solfino beans, an ancient variety from Italy’s Marches region. These are a very rare, pale yellow heirloom bean. I’d tasted them years ago when they were briefly being grown in Tuscany under the name Zolfino, but apparently they didn’t do well there and almost went extinct.

There’s now one artisanal grower of them in the Marches, back where they originated, and when I found some in a local specialty shop, I snatched up a bag. The back label gives a whole history of the variety: fragile, difficult to grow, picky about soil and water, low-yielding, requiring mostly hand tending.

All that makes them ghastly expensive (I paid $17.95 for 500 grams), but they are extraordinarily good. I prepared my precious Solfinos very simply, in order to really taste the bean itself: gently boiled with just a little garlic, fresh sage, and olive oil.

solfino 2

I served them dressed with nothing but extra-virgin olive oil and salt. That was all they needed to bring out their subtle, rich, warm, and yet delicate flavor – hard to describe but heavenly to taste.

solfino 3

 

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Once, many years ago, I made a terrific batch of sweet-and-sour onions – cipolle in agrodolce. It wasn’t a preparation I wanted often, so it was a long time before I thought about it again. When I did, I couldn’t recall where the recipe came from. After I’d tried a few versions that were never as good as my memory of that first one, I more or less gave up on the dish.

It came to mind again recently when I looked at my latest batch of cipolline. I often buy these small, flat, mild, sweet Italian onions when I find them in markets. They’re especially good for stewing whole, because they’re much tastier than the more common small round white onions.

raw

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And since I now had many more cookbooks in my library, as well as the entire Internet, to search for agrodolce recipes, I thought I’d try again.

PezziniI rejected many – some because they called for balsamic vinegar, which is a product I’d never had, back in the day; others because they were much more ingredient-heavy than my faintly remembered dish. Finally I hit on one in Wilma Pezzini’s The Tuscan Cookbook, that – though almost certainly not my former recipe – looked interesting enough to make. It used an approach unlike any of the others I’d been looking at.

So I set forth on the experiment. I dipped my onions in boiling water for a minute to make peeling them easier, and when they were prepared I boiled them for 10 minutes in fresh, salted water. Next the recipe had me simmer them in butter in a frying pan until somewhat browned. They frothed happily in the butter and resisted coloring for quite a while.

cooking

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Then I sprinkled them with half a tablespoon of sugar and a tablespoon of red wine vinegar, covered, and cooked them over very low heat for five minutes.

Pezzini’s next direction was what mostly made the recipe appeal to me: “When the sauce bubbles, taste. The sweet and sour flavor should be balanced; if not, add more sugar, vinegar or water until the sauce seems right to you.” That was eminently logical and practical, and indeed I did add small amounts of both sugar and vinegar, tasting after each addition, to bring the sauce to a pleasing state of sticky spiciness.

sauced

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The onions were then ready to be eaten hot or cold. I found that the sweet-and-sour mixture had permeated them in a way that beautifully complemented their basic flavor. They made an excellent condiment on an appetizer plate with prosciutto, cheese, and crackers.

plated

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Even though I still don’t think this was the way I’d made my very first dish of cipolline in agrodolce all those years ago, it’s definitely the way I’m going to make them from now on. (And I have this post to remind me how to do it.)

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