This caramelized onion pasta is an inexpensive, yet incredibly satisfying weeknight supper of pasta, tender caramelized onions, and Italian sausage.
There’s an old chef’s adage that claims, “Brown food tastes good.” It’s so true. Anything that’s cooked to a caramelized, deep golden brown color can make your mouth water before even taking a bite. Here, it’s slow-cooked caramelized onions that have a starring role with pasta with their intense sweet bitter flavors. Sausage plays a part, but more as a supporting actor whose occasional lines set up the star for even more glory. And the brown bits from the bottom of the pan, mixed with some wine or vermouth, are the all-important soundtrack that brings the whole pasta dish together.–Claire Tansey
Caramelized Onion Pasta
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt plus more for the pasta water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 to 3 medium (about 1 1/4 lb) yellow onions thinly sliced
- 1 pound bulk mild, sweet, or spicy Italian sausage or 3 to 4 individual sausage links, casings removed
- 16 to 18 ounces orecchiette or any short pasta
- 1/4 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
- Parmesan for serving
- Black pepper for serving (optional)
- Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil over high heat.
- While the water comes to a boil, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt and stir well to combine. Cook, stirring frequently and adjusting the heat as necessary so the onions don’t burn, for 10 minutes.
- Add the sausage to the skillet, using a spoon to crumble the sausage, and stir it into the onions. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the sausage is cooked through and the onions are deeply golden brown, about 25 minutes more.
- When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions.
- When the pasta is tender, scoop out 1 cup of the pasta water with a measuring cup. Drain the pasta.
- Slowly pour 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water and the wine over the onions and sausage. Cook, stirring and scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the skillet, for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Stir in the cooked pasta. If the sauce seems a touch too thick, add more of the reserved pasta cooking water, a little at a time.
- Serve it straight from the skillet or dump the pasta into a large bowl. Grate some Parmesan over the top and, if desired, grind some black pepper over the pasta.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Hands down, this is my new go-to. It’s cheap. It makes about 6 servings and the leftovers reheat well. It’s versatile since you can use any sausage that suits you. It takes about 30 minutes from start to finish. It looks super fancy in a fancy dish. It looks like a casual weeknight meal if you serve it right from the skillet. Have I sold you yet?
I used a 16-oz box of pasta and the ratio of pasta to sausage to onion was just fine. I got a tad worried because it looked like a TON of onions in my 16-inch skillet. Medium onions at my grocery store are still pretty giant—2 of the smallest ones rang in at 26 ounces untrimmed. As expected, they cooked down to what looked like practically nothing. I did cook them for a minute or 2 before I added 4 links of mild Italian sausage. The onions were lovely and deeply brown and the sausage formed those crispy bits after about 20 minutes—more than enough time to get the water boiling and the pasta cooked and drained.
I used Pinot Grigio (which was lovely to drink WITH this pasta dish) and ended up adding a total of 1/2 cup of pasta water.
The final dish was excellent and I will try it again. The sausage used came from my Italian store and the quality is excellent. The final dish was delicious and adding the wine and 1/2 cup pasta water made a very nice sauce for the orecchiette pasta.
This is an easy and tasty recipe. We have pasta once or twice in the week so having a new recipe is most welcome and this is one to add to the cycle.
I was unable to find orecchiette so I used shells as they were the closest thing to the “ears” pasta shape.
I cooked the onions longer as I like to draw out their natural sweetness (and that takes a little time). Next time, I would add some pepper to the recipe.
This seemingly simple pasta dish really delivers in big flavor! Reading through this recipe initially, I thought it must be an oversight that there was no garlic listed anywhere in the ingredient list, but I was happily surprised that the outcome didn’t suffer at all from the lack of it.
The onions cooked down into a luscious jammy consistency at the 15-minute mark, but I needed to cook them down for another 10 minutes at medium heat before they turned that beautiful golden-brown color.
The only orecchiette pasta I found at the grocery store came in a 12-oz package, so with this amount of pasta, I used 3 mild Italian sausage links, 2 medium yellow onions, and for the wine I used a Pinot Grigio since that is our summertime favorite. You just can’t go wrong with this list of ingredients!
The magic happens when the onions cook down into all that caramelized goodness. I stayed right at the stove while the onions were cooking, so I didn’t risk burning them if I turned away.
Once the onions were at that perfectly golden stage, I added the wine and a little pasta cooking water to deglaze the pan and then dumped the pasta into the skillet. I like pasta to be a little saucy, so I ultimately used the entire 1 cup of the pasta cooking water so that the sauce adequately coated the noodles.
I served the pasta in bowls topped with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and a chiffonade of fresh basil for a nice pop of color and herbal brightness. This hit all the marks of a wonderfully comforting and flavorful pasta dish that tastes like it took a lot longer than just under 45 minutes to make. The amount of pasta I used made 3 good-sized servings.
This was a winning pasta dish for us, but I’m still thinking that adding some thinly sliced garlic cloves to those luscious onions could make it even better!
This recipe is much better than the sum of its ingredients. Allow me to quote the wee lad’s review of the meal. With his hand placed by his heart, he closed his eyes and stated, “My mouth, my lips, my teeth … they are all very happy.” Pronounced with a minor lisp due to missing teeth. And if the kid, known in this house as The Kid Who Will Never Eat His Dinner, eats every last drop, it’s a winner, a miracle, a truly magnificent feast. Oh, the adults loved it, too.
I’m going to hark back to my Italian relatives, but remember when using few ingredients, make sure they are top-notch. I purchased some artisanal orecchiette, pulled out some homemade sausages brought back from a mom-and-pop joint in Buffalo, grated the Parmesan freshly…you get me. We omitted the vermouth because I have someone living with me at the moment who can’t have alcohol. The onions and sausages cooked for 30 minutes to really brown both of the ingredients.
The pasta came in a 12-oz box and I just used that since we like a good amount of “sauce” on our pasta. Very American I know…my Italian relatives would cringe and roll their eyes.
Originally published September 29, 2020