In the introduction to this chapter, I tell about the extraordinary red onion from Tropea. Its healing qualities have been promoted since Roman times. And though not widely publicized, the wine-red onion is particularly valued by the men of the coast for its capacity to enhance a certain romantic vigor—a legend now confirmed by recent scientific research, we were told, that found la cipolla rossa di Tropea naturally rich with the same compound as delivered by the drug Viagra! I can’t comment on that, but I can tell you with certainty that one can only love any dish featuring the Tropea onion, whether raw or cooked. This wonderful soup, with lots of onions and good San Marzano tomatoes, is the one that we sampled in Calabria and that I have since re-created at home. Made with American-grown sweet onions, it is almost as good as the original version. It can be a meal in itself, or a very special opening course.
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 plump garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
- 2 pounds Tropea or other sweet onions, halved, thinly sliced crosswise
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- One 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
- 4 cups water
- 6 thick slices country bread
- ¼ pound chunk of provola or provolone
- ⅓ cup grated pecorino, or to taste
You will need a heavy saucepan, such as an enameled cast-iron French oven, 4-to-5-quart capacity, with a cover.
Pour the olive oil into the pot, set it over medium heat, and scatter in the sliced garlic. Let the garlic sizzle for a minute, then fill the pan with the onion slices, and sprinkle the salt over them. Stir the onions so they’re all coated with oil. Cook them slowly, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes or so, until they are reduced in volume and translucent, lightly colored but not browned, about 15 minutes.
Pour in the crushed tomatoes and water, (some of which you’ve used to slosh out the tomato containers). Stir in with the onions, cover the pan, bring to a boil, then adjust the heat to keep the soup simmering gently. Cook covered for 45 minutes (the onions should be very tender). Uncover and cook another 15 minutes, or until the soup has reduced by about a quarter.
When ready to serve, toast or grill the bread slices. Cut the provola into six or more slices. Put a slice of hot bread in the bottom of each of six warm soup bowls, and lay a slice of the cheese on top.
With a big slotted spoon, scoop up the onions and tomatoes from the soup, and drop portions over the bread and cheese in each bowl. Finally, ladle in hot broth to fill the bowls, sprinkle grated pecorino over each, and serve immediately.