Oignons à la Monégasque, or sweet and sour onions (Monaco)

Monaco is a tiny city state in Southern France near Nice and the Italian border. With an area of about 2 km2 it is the second smallest (after Vatican) and with its population of about 37,000 the most densely populated country in the world. The official language is French, while a minority speak Monégasque, a Ligurian language similar to several local Italian languages. It has the world’s highest GDP nominal per capita, highest life expectancy, lowest unemployment rate (0%) and the most expensive real estate market. It is a tax haven with no income tax and high business taxes. But Monaco also has a very long history, having been governed by the same royal family since 1297. The economy is built around tourism, especially casinos – which the citizens are not allowed to use.

The Monégasque cuisine is of course very similar to the French, with some Italian influences, but there are some special delicacies, like a pastry called barbagiuan with spinach or pumpkin and fougasse, another pastry with nuts and aniseed. Both meat and fish (especially cod) are very important parts of the cuisine. Cured and smoked hams are eaten a lot. Sweet and sour flavours are quite popular, created with tomato or sometimes lime juice. The only more “pheasant” specialty is socca, or chickpea flour pancakes. There are four(?) Michelin-starred restaurants in Monaco, including one with two stars and one with three stars.

I found these onions quite nice, though the flavour is still mostly onion with sweet and sour undertones – not very sweet or very sour. So if you like onions, you should like these. The recipe says they’re usually served as a snack, but I’d rather serve them as a side dish or as a part of buffet table.

Oignons à la Monégasque

Oignons à la Monégasque

675 g/1.5 lbs small pickling onions
2.25 dl/0.9 cup water
1 bouquet garni (wrap a sprig of thyme, parsley, bay leaf and a leafy celery top in a leek leaf and tie securely together, or use dried spices)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 tbsp raisins
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp sugar
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Top and tail the onions with a sharp knife. Place in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside for 10 minutes, then drain the onions and slip off the skins (note: I didn’t succeed in doing this, so I had to peel them manually, but the blanching made it a lot easier). Cut a cross at the root end of each onion. This allows them to cook evenly and prevents the cores from popping out.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and cook gently for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in all the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook on low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and simmer for a further 15 minutes, for the sauce to thicken. Stir constantly at this point to prevent the sauce from sticking. When ready the sauce should be very thick and the onions tender.

Check the taste for salt, sugar and vinegar. Cool to room temperature, remove the herbs (if using fresh, or at least the bay leaf if using dried) and serve.

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