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Certaldo onion, queen of Tuscan-style soup

Timeless goodness, ça va sans dire!

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50052 Certaldo FI, Italia (0m s.l.m.)


With the approach of the Blackbird Days, which according to popular tradition represent the harshest time of winter, the desire for a warm and refreshing dish to help us face the cold and foggy days comes instinctively: onion soup.

Between Italy and France

Onion soup has become a classic dish of French gastronomy; one hypothesis is that it came to the court of the king of France directly from Italy, through Catherine de' Medici, who went to marry Henry II of Orleans. As always, in these cases, it is unclear whether these are legends or historical truths, but the clues are all there, considering that onions were also widely used in Tuscan cuisine since the time of the Etruscans, as evidenced by some frescoes of the time, and that, therefore, the recipe for Tuscan carabaccia is the ancestor of the French recipe.

In Paris, the tradition of onion soup is linked to the old general market district of Les Halles, where those pulling late into the city's alleys at dawn would go to eat this invigorating dish in bistros that stayed open all night. Of course, today's soupe à l'oignon has been greatly enriched in its ingredients to the point of also becoming a dish offered on holiday menus. In France we are across the oil line, in the middle of the butter zone, which is used along with a rich meat stock.

05-zuppa-franceseFrench-style onion soup

A question of variety

What variety to use in the preparation of this dish? You will find staunch advocates of using coppery onions, as they say they are best suited to long cooking, but they will be quickly contradicted by different opinions indicating a preference for bulbs of another color. But more importantly, what territory should we refer to in order to grasp the typicality of this preparation? Is it a northern or a southern dish?

Let's go, then, to browse through French cookbooks and discover that Alain Ducasse (among the best-known international interpreters of haute cuisine and cuisine du terroir) in one of his books reports a recipe for Soupe d'oignons à la calabraise, which is also referred to as "licurdia," in this case the indication is to use a white onion. Ducasse points out that there is no precise information on the origin of this recipe, which was probably exported to Calabria by an emigrant who was inspired by the Parisian dish. Here, Calabria also boasts paternity over the origin of the preparation, proposed, of course, with the use of the well-known Tropea red onion.

04-campoReady to be picked

Perhaps someday a Confraternity, or some territorial entity will deposit by a Notary "the true traditional recipe" of onion soup, but you see well how difficult it is to place boundaries on the origin of recipes: food is testimony to how intense and fruitful the exchanges and contaminations between peoples have always been in the passage of centuries. It only remains for us to appreciate these legacies and the ability of territories to promote virtuous supply chains to enhance the differences of each local production.

The Redhead of Certaldo

For our part, in order not to make a mistake, we refer to the cuisine of ancient Rome, to the instructions of the cook Celio and, therefore, to the variations that the dish has undergone in Tuscany, where the preparation is at home. We propose to use the onion of Certaldo, mentioned in Boccaccio's Decameron also represented in the municipality's coat of arms. It is a red onion cultivated since the Middle Ages and owes its flavor to the sulfur-rich soil found in the Certaldo countryside.

There are two varieties, grown and harvested at different times of the year: in summer, the "statina," sweeter and more elongated, is preferred, and is also excellent fresh; the "vernina," on the other hand, with its strong and somewhat pungent flavor, is perfect for long cooking and winter dishes, especially our soup!


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Tuscan-style onion soup

To stay true to a more Mediterranean style, I propose here a lean version, recommending the use of strictly certified organic products. An invigorating but respectful recipe for a vegetarian choice, which can also become vegan: for me it was a discovery to try the use of vegan cheeses.




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