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Fusilli with Tropea Onion Sauce

Calabria is one of the food bowls of Italy, producing large amounts of fresh produce for local and export markets. Olive oil, grains and citrus (they are the largest producer of Bergamot Oranges in Italy) are a few of a long list of foods grown in the region. One that Calabria is famous for is the ‘cipolla rossa di Tropea’ or Tropea Onion. It is grown all over Calabria but the ones grown around Tropea and its surrounding villages are renowned for their sweetness.

These onions became a staple during hard times and the locals have created many dishes using these onions as a stand alone meal. One is ‘pasta with onion sauce’ which we finally had the opportunity of sampling on our trip to Calabria in 2014. The recipe for this dish is kind of a guarded secret and after deciphering the few coded hints offered by a local chef, some online research, sourcing seeds in Australia, growing them (which took one year!) and experimenting with the recipe, hey presto, here’s my version of the dish!

Ok, Tropea onions are probably quite hard to find, so you can easily substitute them with any other sweet onion. Ask your greengrocer for the best alternative.

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  • 1. Peel and finely dice the onions.
  • 2. Place the olive oil and onions into a heavy base frying pan or saucepan with a lid.
  • 3. Place over a low heat, cover and cook for 1 to 1.5 hours until very soft and partially broken down. Check the temperature often, making sure that the onions don't develop any colour.
  • 4. Add the red wine and vinegar, increase the heat to medium and cook uncovered for 5 minutes stirring frequently until the liquid has reduced.
  • 5. Add the parsley and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and season with salt and set aside.
  • 6. Cook the fusilli in a large pot of salted boiling water according to the instructions on the packet. Reserve ¼ cup of the pasta water then drain the pasta. Meanwhile, bring the onion mixture back up to a medium heat.
  • 7. Add the pasta to the onion mixture along with the reserved pasta water and stir over a medium heat to combine well.
  • 8. Serve with chilli flakes (optional), freshly ground black pepper and grated parmesan cheese.

About The Author


Elizabeth’s culinary journey started in her childhood home. Coming from Greek and English immigrant parents, food always seemed to be the main focus of everyday life. “Dad would come home from ...