Preserving Italy and Tropea onion jam

I’ve had this cookbook sitting beside my bed for weeks, trying to decide what to cook. I’d pick it up, let a page fall open — almost like letting fate choose the recipe — and get distracted reading. It continued this way for a while. It’s my favourite way to read a cookbook.

Preserving Italy

But the problem for me is that I’m indecisive. Should I make the boozy cherries? That’s how long ago it was when I first started reading Domenica Marchetti‘s Preserving Italy (her seventh cookbook!). It was early summer. Cherries were abundant in the market, and I had just tried my own cherries in liqueur when I read Domenica’s recipe for her grandmother’s “Sour cherries in boozy syrup” and her special trick of drying sour cherries out in the oven first.

Then I saw her homemade orzata (almond syrup to stir through milk or make refreshing cocktails). Another bookmark. Her recipe for making your own guanciale (cured pork jowl, a must in dishes in pasta all’amatriciana). And — one I’ve been waiting for September for, grapes spiced in grappa. To be eaten chilled, no more than one or two, Domenica advises, as they are strong. I’m in.

For someone like me, who loves making jam and pickling, preserving seasonal vegetables in oil or experimenting with liqueurs, this book is not only loaded with ideas (that pickled vegetable pizza, yes please!) and techniques, but Domenica has done so much research in the topic that food nerds will really appreciate how technical she gets. And for anyone who has never done canning or jam-making or the like before, this is an excellent place to start. From simple strawberry jam to sweet and sour pickled onions and homemade limoncello, even homemade primo latte (a fresh cheese), Domenica guides you through these classic Italian traditions with precision and ease.

Tropea onions

Her personal stories of trips to the Amalfi coast or Abruzzo, friends’ recipes, visiting a buffalo cheese farm in Paestum or growing up in an Italian-American household not only give the recipes a context but are a reminder of how Italian traditions of preserving are ancient, vast, so intertwined with the seasons and dealing with a glut of (what was usually homegrown) produce — an immensely important part of the culture of Italian cuisine.

I ended up going with a favourite, Tropea onion jam. It’s a delicious, savoury, jewel-toned jam that sits well on a cheese plate, which is how I often see it here in Italy, and goes beautifully with meat (Domenica uses it on her blue cheese beef burgers). Spotting a braid of Tropea onions — sweet, red onions of an oval shape — at a favourite farm market recently, I let fate decide that jam was to be made. It’s slightly spiced, with a sweet and sour tang to it and with that deep, red wine-hue, looks so pretty on a plate. I paired it with some semi-aged pecorino cheese to eat as an antipasto, aperitivo or a snack. Next I have my eye on Domenica’s brandied chestnut cream — the perfect winter treat.

Domenica Marchetti's cipolla di tropea jamTropea onion jamDomenica Marchetti's Tropea onion jamTropea onion jam with cheese and grapes

Domenica Marchetti’s Tropea Onion Jam

This is based on Domenica Marchetti’s Preserving Italy. In Domenica’s recipe, she also goes into further detail on processing jars (Water-Bath Canning), which is highly informative. The only alterations I made were to slice the onions finely rather than dice and I also used less sugar (about half), as the Tropea onions I had were naturally very sweet. As with most jams that don’t really have a pulp, watch this syrup carefully and make sure it doesn’t boil down too far or you’ll end up with a jam that is too sticky and less silky.

  • 450 grams Tropea onions (or firm, young red onions), finely diced or sliced
  • 400 grams sugar
  • 250 ml sangiovese or other dry red wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 10 whole peppercorns
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1-inch piece of vanilla bean
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Combine the onions, sugar, wine and salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.

Place the peppercorns and other herbs and spices in a small piece of muslin/cheesecloth and tie with kitchen string for a little pouch that you can easily remove later. Add it to the pot.

Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Simmer, stirring often, until the jam has thickened and reaches 220-225 degrees Fahrenheit (104-107 degrees Celsius), about 20 minutes. Domenica describes this fantastic way to tell it’s at the right stage: see if you can drag a path along the bottom of the pot with a silicon spatula. Or you can use the saucer in the freezer method (my favourite) to test for doneness — place a saucer in the freezer. Once cold, place a blob of jam on the plate and spread it out or poke it a little with your finger. The idea is the plate should make it cool quickly and you’ll be able to see how it behaves and if the jam ‘wrinkles’ or not when touched or moved. If it does, it’s done.

I used this immediately (keeping one in the refrigerator and giving the others to friends) so I didn’t process my jars, but if you want to keep it, ladle the boiling hot jam into clean jars and screw lids on tightly. Process in a water bath, remove from the water and let dry upright. Store in a cool, dark place.


  1. Rosemarie says:

    It’s a lovely book isn’t it Emiko? I’ve also kept it close by lately and have been inspired by so many recipes. So far, I’ve made Domenica’s mosto cotto and am trying not to consume to much of it now (this is proving to be verytough, as my little one loves it with yoghurt) so I can make mostaccioli with it come Christmas time.

    • Thank you Rosemarie! Hold out on that mosto cotto if you can. It really does get better as the months go by. I just tasted some I made last year, and it is altogether different than it was when I bottled it ~ complex, spicy and raisiny and delicious. Cheers, D

      • Rosemarie says:

        Hi Domenica, You’re very welcome. I love, love your book and it could not have come at a better time for me either. When I bought it, I had just come back from a holiday in Abruzzo and it was such a pleasure to read about so many preparations I had just discovered there. And, as someone who doesn’t do much preserving, I really appreciated the safety information and how accessible you made the subject. I’m going to try and make one more batch of mosto cotto (perhaps with white muscat grapes) this week which will be promptly hidden from my little golosona! 🙂

  2. Emiko,
    You read cookbooks the same way I do. Yes, there is something to be said for reading it chronologically, but sometimes it’s better to let the book fall open to a page and dive in that way. Thank you for this post, for your glorious photos, and for spending time with my book. Un abbraccio, D

  3. This is wonderful Emiko! I always enjoy your post so much!

  4. corinne says:

    I’m happy to hear that i’m not the only one to have cookbooks next to my bed !! I love to read in bed :)) Hummmm i’ll have to try this jam recipe since I love jams/chutneys !
    Merci for the recipe Emiko !

  5. Amanda says:

    I love your blog – your photos are always so beautiful! I just recently purchased this cookbook and have yet to make any of the recipes but there a quite a few that I’ve flagged. Now I just need “time.” Looks like your jam came out wonderful!

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