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 17 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
Ingredients
  • 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
Pasta
  • 400 g garganelli pasta (14oz) or other pasta tube
Instructions
  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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18 Comments

  • Sylvie
    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

  • Adrianne
    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!

  • 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…

  • Michelle
    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.

  • penelopi
    June 18, 2019 11:54 am

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

  • penelopi
    June 18, 2019 11:43 am

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

  • Steve
    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.

  • Jen
    June 16, 2019 10:02 pm

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

  • Emily
    June 16, 2019 9:38 pm

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

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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. 🙂

  • 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!

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

    That sauce sounds SO good. What a tasty looking dish

  • Diana
    June 16, 2019 1:33 pm

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

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

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

  • Milica Vladova
    June 16, 2019 10:20 am

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

  • 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 (bintrhodaskitchen.blagspot.co.uk) 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.
    Enjoy.
    Michel

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