Italian Braised Onion Sauce (il Friggione) with Pasta.

Italian Braised Onion Sauce (il Friggione) with Garganelli Pasta.

Traditionally this intensely favourful braised onion sauce from Bologna takes hours to make even though it has very few ingredients. However, Il friggione is definitely worth the wait!

Italian braised onion sauce (il friggione) with garganelli pasta

Il Friggone con pasta.

Il Friggione, also called frizòn or frizàn in the local dialect, is a sauce from Bologna, Emilia-Romagna made with slow cooked white onions and peeled tomatoes. It is a really seriously tasty dish traditionally served as a side dish with meat or as an antipasto with bread. However, nowadays it is eaten with pasta too.

Italian braised onion sauce (il friggione)

A simple dish with lots of flavour!

This Italian braised onion sauce is simple to make, but takes a rather long time to prepare when made the traditional way. This is because the onions need to macerate in a bowl of salt and sugar for about 4 hours, although some recipes say 2 hours are enough! The onions are then sautéed on a low heat with lard (or olive oil) and tomatoes for another couple of hours! You can cut cooking/preparation times but the longer you cook this sauce, the more flavourful it will be. It’s definitely worth the wait!

Ingredients for Il friggione on white plate

The original il friggione recipe was invented in 1886 by a woman called Maria Manfredi Baschieri. Today, like tagliatelle Bolognese and tuna Bolognese, this recipe is registered as a traditional dish at the Academy of Italian Cuisine and at the Bologna Chamber of Commerce. There is also a second official version which includes pancetta and peperoncino (red chili pepper). 

sliced white onions in a glass bowl

The onions.

Onions have been cultivated in Italy for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and are an important ingredient in Italian cuisine. In fact, onions are one of the three main ingredients in what Italians call a ‘soffritto’. This is the finely chopped carrots, celery and onions that form the base of many dishes and sauces!

sliced white onions cooking in Dutch oven

There are a number of different types of onions grown throughout Italy. Many are particular to a certain area or region, like red Tropea onions from Calabria.  One of the characteristics of traditional Italian recipes is that they include, or are based on, locally grown produce. So, in Calabria, there are many recipes for Tropea onions like onion jam or this Elicoidali pasta with Tropea onions and cheese recipe.

tomato pulp and sliced white onions in Dutch oven

As I mentioned above, this braised onion sauce recipe is from Bologna so, the onions typically used are local too. This sauce is usually made with ‘Cipolle di Medicina IGP’ (Medicina onions). These are onions from Medicina, a town about 20 kms from Bologna. Onions have been grown there since the 16th century.

Italian braised onion sauce in Dutch oven

Of course, outside of Italy, it’s very difficult to find the exact same onions. In theory, you can use any onion, red, white or yellow. However, I think the best would be white onions with a fairly pungent, but not overwhelming, flavour. That way your braised onion sauce will taste more authentic.

Italian braised onion sauce (il friggione) with garganelli pasta

Il friggione is good with everything!

In the local dialect of Bologna, they say ‘al frizan le bòn con tot’ (il friggione is good with everything). I can attest to that! This braised onion sauce is not only fabulous with pasta but it’s a great side dish, especially with red meat. I like to serve it at bbqs. Some Italians also eat it with polenta. However, the absolute favourite is just with bread.

Italian braised onion sauce (il friggione) with garganelli pasta

Other ingredients in this Italian braised onion sauce.

Apart from the onions, this recipe has only tomatoes, lard (or olive oil), salt and pepper. The tomatoes can be freshly peeled and chopped sauce tomatoes or canned peeled tomatoes. I used a ready made tomato pulp (Italians say ‘polpa’). This is like finely chopped tomatoes. The traditional Il friggione recipe calls for lard. However, many Italians use extra virgin olive oil instead. Olive oil is obviously the way to go for a totally vegetarian recipe.

Italian braised onion sauce (il friggione) with garganelli pasta

           Cook once, eat twice!

When making Il friggione, people from Bologna often make double the quantity they need. This makes sense because of the time it takes to make. But, in addition, this braised onion sauce can be kept sealed in the fridge for up to a week. Of course, this means you can cook it once but eat it in different ways twice or even three times. I love cook once eat twice recipes, don’t you?

If you make this Italian braised onion sauce with pasta recipe, I’d love to hear how it turns out and if you liked it. Please leave a comment here on the blog or on The Pasta Project Facebook page.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Buon appetito!  

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5 from 19 votes
Italian braised onion sauce (il friggione) with garganelli pasta
Italian Braised Onion Sauce (Il Friggione) with pasta
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
2 hrs
Resting time minimum
2 hrs
Total Time
2 hrs 20 mins

This rich and tasty vegetarian Italian braised onion sauce has only 2 main ingredients, white onions and tomatoes. It may take a while to make but is definitely worth it! Great with pasta! Perfect as a side dish with meat, on bread and with polenta too!

Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: Emilia-Romagna, Italian
Keyword: braised onions, Italian food, Italian recipe, onions, pasta, tomatoes
Servings: 4
Author: Jacqueline De Bono
  • 2.5 kg white onions (5.5 lbs)
  • 200 g peeled tomatoes (7oz) fresh or canned
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (or lard for traditional non-vegetarian version)
  • salt for onions, pasta and to taste
  • 1 tsp sugar for onions
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • 400 g garganelli pasta (14oz) or other pasta tube
  1. Peel and thinly slice the onions. ( you can use a mandoline slicer for this). Put the onions in a glass or ceramic bowl and add a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of sugar. Mix together well and leave to macerate for 2-4 hours. (Mix occasionally)

  2. Heat the olive oil or lard in a deep heavy pan ( I used my Dutch oven) Add the onions with the liquid they produced and cook until the liquid evaporates and the onions soften. 

  3. Add the tomatoes. Mix everything together well and cook over a low heat for 1.5-2 hours. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. If necessary add a little water.

  4. Once the sauce is ready. Put a pot of water onto boil for the pasta. Add salt when the water starts to boil and bring to the boil again. Cook pasta according to the instructions on the packet. When the pasta is ready save a cup of the cooking water and drain.

  5. Return the pasta to the pot and add some of the braised onion sauce. (You will probably have more than you need) Mix well over a low heat for a minute or two and serve with grated parmigiano and chopped parsley if required.

Recipe Notes

I used garganelli pasta for this recipe. Garganelli is a traditional egg pasta tube from Bologna, but you can use other pasta tubes or tagliatelle. 

Traditionally the onions should cook for 2 hours alone and then 1.5 hours with the tomatoes. I reduced cooking times by cooking the onions alone only until they started to soften as per the Italian recipe I followed.

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Italian braised onion sauce (il friggione) with pasta



Italian Braised Onion Sauce

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  • Avatar
    janet turner
    April 28, 2020 6:51 pm

    Hi just wanted to double check 2.5kg onions? Seems a lot !

    • Jacqui
      April 28, 2020 7:58 pm

      Hi Janet, thanks for your comment. 2.5 kgs may sound a lot but the onions really reduce during cooking. Plus, you can use the extra as a side dish with meat. However, if you aren’t sure, half the amount of ingredients. Let me know how it turns out.

  • Avatar
    November 5, 2019 10:50 pm

    This worked well even though I made so many mistakes, I didn’t caramelize the onions enough, didn’t add enough tomatoes (I used what I had:) It still came out quite good. It freezes quite well.

    I’ll be making this again. Thank you.

  • Avatar
    October 26, 2019 1:58 am

    Only7 ounces of tomatoes, is that all?

    • Jacqui
      October 26, 2019 8:13 am

      Hello Cinzia, thank you for your comment. Like many old Italian recipes there are different versions of il friggione when it comes to quantities. I have seen this recipe on a number of Italian recipe sites and the quantity of tomatoes varies! I used 200g (7oz) of polpa (ready pureed tomatoes) but there are recipes that say 150g and others 400g (14oz) So, if you feel you want to add more tomatoes, feel free to do so.

  • Avatar
    Kelly Anthony
    June 26, 2019 11:34 pm

    I find this recipe so interesting. With only 3 ingredients this recipe seems to be bursting with so much flavor.

    • Jacqui
      June 27, 2019 8:57 am

      Amazing isn’t it Kelly? With just 3 ingredients you can make an amazing dish of pasta! Of course the ingredients need to be the best ever!

  • Avatar
    June 18, 2019 1:10 pm

    Such a simple yet delicious recipe packed with flavourful fresh ingredients – just all you need with a good bowl of pasta! Thanks for the recipe, can’t wait to try it

    • Jacqui
      June 27, 2019 10:17 am

      Thanks for your comment Sylvie! Yes this braised onion sauce is so full of flavour! I’m sure you’ll love it!

  • Avatar
    June 18, 2019 12:55 pm

    This looks like a super delicious pasta dish! Vegetarian ones are the best as you can make them so quickly and easily. I can’t wait to try this out, cheers for sharing!

    • Jacqui
      June 27, 2019 10:19 am

      To be honest, this isn’t the fastest vegetarian pasta recipe Adrianne! But it’s definitely easy and delicious!

  • Avatar
    Paula Montenegro
    June 18, 2019 12:36 pm

    I had never heard of this pasta sauce. I love Italian recipes so much, and this one screams to be made! It’s winter here (Buenos Aires) so this sounds like a great weekend recipe. The variation with pancetta and pepperoncino caught my eye too…

    • Jacqui
      June 27, 2019 10:20 am

      I’m sure you’ll really enjoy this pasta recipe Paula! Yes great for Winter too! I haven’t made it with pancetta and peperoncino but I can imagine it’s fabulous!

  • Avatar
    June 18, 2019 12:32 pm

    I love cook once eat twice dinners! And I love the simplicity of this sauce, I bet it tastes amazing. Can’t wait to try it.

    • Jacqui
      June 27, 2019 10:22 am

      Thank you Michelle! Cook once, eat twice sauces are my favourite these days. Yes this braised onion sauce tastes amazing!

  • Avatar
    June 18, 2019 11:54 am

    I often make this recipe! Actually it’s very common here in Greece. 🙂

    • Jacqui
      June 27, 2019 10:23 am

      That’s interesting Penelopi! What do you eat it with in Greece?

  • Avatar
    June 18, 2019 11:43 am

    Ah I love everything about Pasta! I will just omit the parmesan cheese and try it out. 🙂

    • Jacqui
      June 27, 2019 10:24 am

      This braised onion sauce is great with pasta Penelopi! I’m sure you’ll love the combo!

  • Avatar
    June 17, 2019 5:23 pm

    Wow! Made the sauce yesterday, with homemade penne rigate. It was really hard to resist adding oregano, etc. to the sauce, but I’m glad I did. What a fabulous, deep rich flavor! Amazing! And enough left over to try it on polenta. Thanks for another great recipe.

    • Jacqui
      June 27, 2019 10:25 am

      I’m thrilled to hear you tried and loved this sauce Steve! It really is so tasty, even without adding other seasoning!

  • Avatar
    June 16, 2019 10:02 pm

    I love how sometimes the simplest of things just brings out the best flavor! We loved it!

    • Jacqui
      June 27, 2019 10:26 am

      Thanks so much Jen! Happy you loved this braised onion sauce!

  • Avatar
    June 16, 2019 9:38 pm

    Great recipe! I made a big batch like you recommended and it turned out really well.

    • Jacqui
      June 27, 2019 10:27 am

      That’s great to hear Emily! I love eating this onion sauce with bread too! Did you try that?

  • Avatar
    Heidy L. McCallum
    June 16, 2019 8:24 pm

    Good afternoon,
    I just wanted to share that I am very impressed with your blog and the wonderful pasta recipes you share. This one looks wonderful and I really think my family will enjoy it. The images and step by step instructions are wonderful too!

    • Jacqui
      June 27, 2019 10:28 am

      Aww that’s such a nice thing to say Heidy. I’m so happy you like my blog! I’m sure your family will love this dish!

  • Avatar
    Pam Greer
    June 16, 2019 8:11 pm

    What a great recipe! I love the macerated onions and will use that technique with other recipes too!

    • Jacqui
      June 27, 2019 10:29 am

      Thank you dear Pam! Yes those macerated onions become so sweet and flavourful. Great in braised meat dishes too!

  • Avatar
    Anita @ Daily Cooking Quest
    June 16, 2019 7:59 pm

    The onion and tomato sauce is so good, and really easy too. It’s quite impossible to go back to store bought pasta sauce since I tried making my own. 🙂

    • Jacqui
      June 27, 2019 10:31 am

      Grazie Anita! I love homemade pasta sauce too and, of course, here in Italy most people make their own. Italians really know how to eat well!

  • Avatar
    Amanda Wren-Grimwood
    June 16, 2019 2:02 pm

    I can just imagine the flavour from all those onions and tomatoes. This is definitely on my list to try – delicious!

    • Jacqui
      June 27, 2019 10:32 am

      You will definitely fall in love with this sauce Amanda! It really is so delicious!

  • Avatar
    Bintu | Recipes From A Pantry
    June 16, 2019 1:55 pm

    That sauce sounds SO good. What a tasty looking dish

    • Jacqui
      June 27, 2019 10:33 am

      Thank you Bintu! Yes this braised onion sauce is divine! Def worth trying!

  • Avatar
    June 16, 2019 1:33 pm

    Love such easy and simple dinner recipes that I can make on a busy mid-week night!

    • Jacqui
      June 27, 2019 10:44 am

      Thanks Diana! Although this sauce takes a while to make it’s definitely worth it. You can make it in advance and use it during the week! So yes perfect for busy mid-week nights!

  • Avatar
    Amy | The Cook Report
    June 16, 2019 12:11 pm

    I love the sound of this sauce, so full of flavour

    • Jacqui
      June 27, 2019 10:45 am

      Thank you Amy! Yes, even though this braised onion sauce has only a few ingredients, it’s definitely very flavourful!

  • Avatar
    Milica Vladova
    June 16, 2019 10:20 am

    Mmmm, so simple and so tasty! I love that sauce!

    • Jacqui
      June 27, 2019 10:46 am

      Grazie cara Milica! I love this braised onion sauce too, especially as it can be used in different ways!

  • Avatar
    Michel bonnet
    June 15, 2019 9:53 am

    hello Jacqueline,
    I cannot wait to cook your Friggione – thanks for the recipe.
    It reminds me of a Turkish/Palestinian recipe – by Bint Rhoda ( which resembles it.
    the Palestinian recipe has Cumin, Honey, Parsley & hot Peppers in it – but really delicious.
    The Italian recipe seems to be more delicate.
    Maybe you are interested as it is a Mediterranean recipe.

    • Jacqui
      June 27, 2019 10:48 am

      Hi Michel! I’m happy you want to try this il friggione recipe! I’m sure you’ll love it! I have to check out the Turkish/Palestinian version you mention. Sounds yummy too!

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