caramelized onion pasta

Secret: caramelized onions are the key to happiness. I’ve written about them plenty before, and I’ll probably keep writing about them forever. Most of the time, when someone compliments my cooking, it’s because there were caramelized onions involved.


This recipe, an amalgam of a basic zucchini pasta recipe from Dirty Gourmet and a standard Bon Appetit concoction culled from Epicurious, started as a way to use up the handful of assorted vegetables hanging out in my fridge (four zucchini, three tomatoes, and a large handful of arugula). The x factor: caramelized onions, which lend it depth, richness, and a hint of sweetness to cut the typical pasta-sauce-saltiness. Lazy and pliable, they mirror my summer mood exactly and they help pull a bunch of random veggies into a passable pasta sauce. If you’re looking at a pile of misfit vegetables from your last CSA or market run and trying to figure out how to give them a little extra dimension, look no further…


Caramelized Onion Pasta

You will need:
1/2 pound pasta (I like penne. But as you wish), cooked to instructions
Vegetables: I used 4 zucchinis, 3 tomatoes, and a handful of arugula, but you can use whatever you’ve got around for the most part, diced or cut into bite-sized pieces
5-6 onions, sliced thinly
4-6 garlic cloves
Olive oil and butter
Spoonful of sugar (naturally)
Salt, pepper, and dried rosemary to taste
Parmesan cheese, to serve


While you cook your pasta, begin caramelizing your onions.

Some tips: 1) slice them very thinly, 2) use both butter and olive oil, 3) caramelize along with whatever herbs you’re using – it will help blend the flavors together more thoroughly, 4) be patient. There are no shortcuts. Pour yourself a drink. It will be worth the wait.

Nuts and bolts: heat up a pat of butter and a swirl of olive oil on medium heat and add your onions and herbs. Once they’ve started to turn translucent, throw in your garlic (I like mine whole or in large slices, but other people are less enthusiastic about garlic than I am and I respect that), sprinkle sugar on top, give a good stir, and turn the heat down. Wait, stirring occasionally, until they are reduced significantly:


This will probably take 45 minutes or so. The longer the better. Watch an episode of Mad Men if you must, but keep an eye on the heat and don’t let your onions brown or burn.

In the meantime, cook your other veggies separately. I opted to saute my zucchini in just oil, at a fairly high temperature, to brown and crisp it a little, then added the arugula and tomatoes on a lower heat setting to stew it all together into a happy blend. When you’re happy with your vegetable mix, add it into your caramelized onion pan with a little parmesan, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm, with freshly grated parmesan, over pasta.


Serving tip: for a richer dish, mix in a few spoonfuls of full-cream plain yogurt when you serve.

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