A Note from Chef Jacques Larson:
The first time I made an Italian cipollata soup was over 10 years ago, back during the early days of Wild Olive. I absolutely fell in love with the dish. There are many different versions of cipollata depending upon which region you find it being made. Some versions use tomato in the base; some use red wine and some use white wine. Some recipes incorporate meat into the base (like sausage, spare ribs or prosciutto), while others only use lard instead of butter. Lastly, some recipes use milk, flour and/or cheese. The variations are vast + countless.
That is perhaps why I love this soup so much. It is very simple, yet the quality of the soup lies in the balance of ingredients. It is a perfect soup for a cold Fall or Winter day. It is peasant food at its best. Definitely a cousin of French onion soup, I find the Italian version more satisfying + complex. In our version, we use pancetta to fortify the soup and instead of red or white wine, we use Marsala to help accentuate the sweetness of the onion.
Many versions from Emilia Romagna thicken the soup with whisked eggs to give it a fuller body and earthy flavor profile. The eggs are whisked and stirred into the soup while simmering, causing it to thicken + shred in the base, much like an egg drop soup. In this version, we use grated hard boiled egg to add richness, while not thickening the soup as severely.
Like all recipes, I encourage you to play around with this soup and develop it into something that speaks to you. Our chef de cuisine at Wild Olive, Brad Grozis, makes a cipollata these days with a mushroom/parmesan stock, instead of chicken stock. Also, instead of using toasted bread to ladle the soup over, he thickens the base with cubed stale bread, just like a papa pomodoro. It is delightful and a perfect example of inspired creative cooking. Another idea is to place the bread on top of the soup and gratine it under a broiler with taleggio or fontina cheese, treating it more like a French onion version. The possibilities are endless and the payoff immense… give it a try!
Ingredients (Chef Jacques encourages sourcing your ingredients locally):
4 tbsp butter
6 oz small diced pancetta
6 large onions (julienned ¼ in wide / ½ moons)
1/3 cup all purpose flour
2 cup Marsala
6 cup dark chicken stock or roasted bone broth
¼ cup parmesan
3 eggs (hardboiled)
1 cup whole milk
1 ½ tbsp salt
1 tsp pepper
4 – 6 slices of sourdough bread (about ½ in thick)
Handful of chives (chopped)
Add butter and pancetta to a medium stock pot on medium heat. Brown the pancetta until it is completely rendered and brown (about 5 minutes). Add onion and stir. Cook the onion until it begins to soften and caramelize (about 10-15 minutes). Reduce heat.
Stir in the flour and mix well. Cook for a couple of minutes to incorporate the flour and begin cooking the roux. Deglaze the pot with Marsala. Cook for another few minutes on medium heat while stirring to activate the roux. Add chicken stock in increments so that the onion/roux base is incorporated into the stock. Bring to a simmer, add milk and simmer for a half hour.
Hold the soup on the range at a low temperature to keep hot.
Lightly oil the bread slices and either grill, or toast the bread to get it crispy on the exterior.
Place the grilled/toasted bread slices on the bottom of the bowl. Ladle the onion soup over the top of the bread in each bowl. Drizzle the soup with olive oil and sprinkle the grated parmesan over top. Lastly, grate the hard-boiled eggs over the cheese and finish with chopped chives.