Cipollini (pronounced chip oh LEE nee) literally translates into “little onion” in Italy, hence their popular name. Cipolla is the Italian name for onion. These are also called small onions or wild onions. They taste and look like a small flattened onion, but in fact, they are the bulb of the grape hyacinth. The bulb is mild and bittersweet, but totally transforms into a sweet and delicate vegetable that will melt in your mouth if you roast, braise, simmer or simply caramelize them in some butter.
Fun Facts: There was a retired professional football player named Renato Cipollini; a professional Italian road cyclist named Mario Cipollini; a fictional character from a children’s book (you can even buy an action figurine on eBay®!); and my all-time favorite, a character in the hit HBO series THE SOPRANOS… Hey, Joey Cipollini!
As these little flat onions become more and more popular, they are getting easier and easier to find, and I can now locate them at my local grocery store in the fall months. You will also be able to find them in specialty markets and most definitely in an Italian market.
They work beautifully on an Antipasto platter; and equally as well as a vegetable side with a roast beef or a grilled steak. The only tricky part is peeling them. The least time consuming method for me is to boil them for a few seconds to loosen the skins, and then they are easier to peel. You can also trim the tops and pull the skins off with a paring knife. This method works also, but can be a little more time consuming. They’ll disappear so fast on the serving dish that you’ll find yourself making bigger and bigger batches.
There are many different roasting and braising recipes online. The recipes I’ve researched all have balsamic vinegar as the central ingredient. Some recipes call them braised, some roasted, and some use honey, some use red wine, and some use a combination of both red wine and honey, as my recipe does, and they also all use either fresh rosemary or fresh thyme.