Braised Onions with Pasta from James Beard

onions braised in pasta

Braised onions with no frills, no fuss.

Cliché warning!

Sometimes less is more.

Just because it is a cliché, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.  We (or at least I) do tend to complicate food.

I am past the stage of :


Turn on the cooker before taking off coat, prepare tomorrow’s packed lunches while tonight’s dinner is cooking, fend off requests for homework help, answer the phone, flip through the post, arbitrate fight before it turns into a trip to A & E  (ER in America), feed the cats . . . . . . . 



Now, I potter in the kitchen while I’m cooking supper.  I stir when it is not needed.  I think I might add a little ‘something’ to lift the taste.

Or I get immersed in a book till the warning smell of a dry pan calls me back to reality.

I think I needed James Beard to set me back on track for a more minimal attitude to cooking.  In his book, Beard on Pasta, published in 1985 and sadly, so far as I can tell, out of print, he says of this recipe:

“Long-cooked onions have a naturally sweet taste. This is a substantial sauce, and I like to serve it with a pasta that has body, something like bows or wagon wheels or wide ribbons or macaroni.”

He cooks them with no garlic, no salt, no fuss.

And that’s what we had for lunch yesterday.  I used those little pasta shells known as Conchiglie, simply because I had more of those than any other shape.

I was very restrained. I didn’t add any extras, even though my fingers kept straying towards the garlic, the salt, the balsamic vinegar, and the pepper.

onions braised 1

I did sin slightly by adding a shallot as well as three onions.  I also added a slug of oil with the butter to stop it burning.

onions braised lid on

But I was really good at leaving the pan alone and cooking the onions really slowly with a lid on to hold in the moisture.

onions braised cooked

The result was a very pale, sweet and tender pan of onions.

onions braised in pasta

So, how was it?

Very nice, actually.  In fact the only change I would make next time would be to remove something rather than add!

Beard calls for 1 tablespoon of sugar, I put in 1/2 a tablespoon.  It would be better with even less – if fact, when it comes round again (which it will), I may well not put any in.

Beard also called for 1/4 cup of Madeira – No Madeira and no opened white wine so I didn’t bother.  Perhaps I’ll try it next time.

The only other criticism is that it is so bland in appearance   I think it needs a garnish of chopped herbs.


Preparation time : 10 min

Cooking time : 1 hour (but you could cook the onions ahead)

Difficulty? : Easy

Freezing? : I would freeze the onions but not the pasta

Portions : 2

onions braised in pasta

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