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Feb 4, 2005 11:23 AM

What kind of onions does Marcella use?

  • k

Yes it's me, the one with the Marcella Hazan fixation. The previous post about white vs. yellow onions has brought up an issue for me. In Marcella Hazan's "Essentials" she has various recipies that call for onion, just "onion" no type is specified. I think there are a few that call for Spanish onion. So when Marcella says(pun intended) just onion I had assumed Spanish, but now I'm thinking they may be too strong.

I won't be able to really start in on the recipies yet, the Superbowl got in the way of my plans, but when I do start in I want to make sure I follow her direction to the letter. (as several of you who were nice enough to post on my previous question suggested)I surely don't want to screw up the tomato sauce with onions and butter!

Thanks Again

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  1. My first post started to sound like an old Saturday Night Live skit. LOL

    But seriously. She writes more or less exclusively for American audiences and she's such a nitpicker that if she meant something other than your basic yellow cooking onion, I'm sure she'd say so. In 500 words if not less. :)

    And if you mean the tomato sauce with butter, the onion is such a background flavor it hardly matters as long as it's an onion. Far, far more important are the quality of the tomatoes and the butter. And don't stick too obsessively to the written cooking time, it will vary based on tomato brand, the pot you use, etc. and you really don't want to overcook this particular sauce.

    (That recipe is squarely in mind at the moment, I've been using it to test different canned tomatoes and have the leftovers of 3 batches in the fridge at home as I type!)

    19 Replies
    1. re: MikeG

      I agree. I seem to recall learning from her first book that unless she specifies something different, she is talking about yellow onions. However, for most things, I use whatever I have on hand.

      MikeG, please let us know the results of your canned tomato test.

      1. re: MikeG
        ChowFun (derek)

        Are you comparing "real" San Marzano...say with....Muir Glen????
        Will you share the results of your testing?

        1. re: ChowFun (derek)

          Yeah, that's the idea. I know food writers have done it but the recent comparisons I've seen are from sources I don't have a lot of respect for where tasting's concerned. And besides, tomato sauce is a major food group AFAIC so it's not really a hardship.LOL

          I don't know how far I'll get but my plan is work through the American brands as well as the San Marzano types and DOP brands I can find at more or less reasonable prices. If I could buy it in person instead of by mail, I'd even try the $8/jar "miracolo di San Gennaro" from, but I'm *not* going to pay $15 S&H from the Bronx to Manhattan just to try one jar! (And even if they're ambrosia, that's way too expensive for me for anything but a very special meal anyway.)

          I won't make any promises to write up anything fancy or necessarily thorough - I'm not an aspiring food writer and don't have the patience :) - but I'll try to keep track of basic notes as I go along and post something eventually.

          1. re: MikeG
            ChowFun (derek)

            That would be great..I've been thinking of doing side by side tomato sauces ..and seeing whether San Marzano is worth the extra cost..vis a vis Muir Glen.(or any other well respected canned tomatos)....we can compare notes online!

            1. re: MikeG

              Actually, I would just open the cans and taste the tomato right out of the can. That's the best way to taste the difference. Then when you're done make a big pot of sauce with all of them!

              1. re: coll

                I do both, but since I use them for cooking, I want to know how they work out in the final product. Red Pack, for example, tasted better to me straight out of the can than the final sauce did. Also, cooking them in the same recipe to reach a similar final consistency, an equal weight can of RP cooked down to about 2/3 as much sauce as the "best" brand so far, even though they're packed in thick puree and the other just in juice. Since I'm doing this as a "price to quality ratio" experiment as well as to find "my favorite," things like that are a factor.

              2. re: MikeG

                Something to keep in mind in a canned tomato tasting is that, like fresh tomatoes, the flavor of canned tomatoes vary by the season. Tomatoes that are grown for canning have their peaks and lows, but they still can them all. I've been blown away by S&W Tomatoes (usually, I believe, in the fall), and I've been disappointed by canned marzano tomatoes. Wouldn't it be interesting if canned tomatoes had "packed on" dates so you could know if they were spring, summer or fall tomatoes? Or do they?

                I've read reviews that say one of the most prominent differences between tomatoes canned here and tomatoes canned in Italy is that Italians value flavor over "firmness", and since most canned tomatoes are used in sauces, the marzanos are often softer/riper when packaged than the U.S. equvalents, where test marketing has shown that Americans expect a canned tomato to be firm, in the shape of a tomato, rather than soft.

                I'd be interested in hearing the result of your testing too.

                1. re: MikeG

                  If you do this, I will be pitching in with my comments too. I have been on the search for a good organic canned tomato. I really love Muir Glen, but after discovering that they are owned by General Mills, I am trying my darndest to find another canned tomato source (not owned by a huge corporation). I am doubting I will find one, and will probably resort to canning my own this coming summer.


                  1. re: jen maiser

                    By all means! I don't know how useful my "findings" will be to other people since you all don't know my tastes, but if nothing else we'll end up throwing out a bunch of names some people may not have thought to try.

                    I haven't tasted Glen Muir in literally about 10 years. When I did I thought they were actually the worst canned tomatoes I'd ever tasted - just about no flavor at all even with added salt - but since so many people are raving about them, I figure maybe they realized their error of their ways. The organic aspect is irrelevant to me and they're more expensive than just about every regular brand I see, but if they're good enough, I'd buy 'em.

                    Frankly, all I can do is wish you luck in buying just about anything sold on the national level that isn't owned or distributed by a big corporation...

                    1. re: MikeG

                      For what it's worth, Lavalle San Marzano are the best I've ever had, they are only sold thru wholesalers to restaurants as far as I know, you'd have to know who carries it. But they import thru Jersey, so maybe you could contact them?

                      1. re: coll

                        Thanks, got 'em on the list already!

                        For some reason I couldn't bring up the page you referenced, or even the homepage, but I can get them around here easily enough. Are you talking about the San Marzano "type" (28 oz. can) or the DOP version (35 oz. can)? The type is pretty widely available here (NYC) but I only found the DOP version at one place. (Todaro Bros., who also ship if anyone's interested.)

                        1. re: MikeG

                          No La Valle is definitely DOC, from outside Naples, I met the owner and his wife and she made some plain ziti with marinara that was the best!! I hate to use anything else.

                          1. re: coll

                            They make two versions. One just has a little red banner off to the side with the phrase "San Marzano" by itself. The other has the full-blown DOP designation. But in any event I do have both to try. :)

                            OK, for whatever the reason I am able to bring up the PennMac site this AM and see they have both of what I'm talking about:

                            DOP version:
                            San Marzano "type": .

                            It's cool that you got to me the growers. Do they grow some of them themselves and get the others elsewhere, or do they just have properties inside and outside the designated area, or is there some other reason they produce both types?

                            FWIW, if you have to order them yourself instead of getting them locally, Todaro Bros. is a little cheaper if the shipping works out to be about the same.

                            1. re: MikeG

                              They are packers but all their tomatoes are grown in the volcanic soils outside Naples. They are also very proud that you will never find any green color or hardness on the stem, the tomatoes are always perfectly ripe. The company has been around since the late 40s, and in the 60s and 70s they packed for Progresso and Pope (which my Italian mother-in-law insisted were the only ones I should use at the time, when I was just learning "the ways"). The way that his wife made the marinara is what sold me: She just sauteed garlic and little onion in EVOO, added a can of whole peeled tomatoes and seasoned with salt, pepper, fresh basil and parsley. Cooked only 15 minutes, so you really could tell how good they were.
                              I know some seasons they have different amounts of rainfall and whatever, so maybe you should do an annual tasting of all your favorites every spring to pick which tastes best and then use it thru the next winter.

                              1. re: coll

                                Thanks. I was just wondering why they have a DOP version and another that isn't. I guess I'll see if there's any difference and whether it's worth the trip across town to get the DOP! Annual testing is a bit too much for me LOL - I have 10 brands already and a couple of others I have my eye on - but it is probably the ideal thing to do.

                                At this point, I think I have to try the LaValle next - probably tonight. Maybe even both versions if I get ambitious!

                                I tried the Muir Glen last night and they were much, much better than they were when I tried them years ago, but not quite as good as the Canadian-packed Luigi Vitelli that's the leader so far. Well, on to the next one. LOL

                      2. re: MikeG

                        OK I was wrong apparently they sell retail too. Here is just one link I found under Lavalle Tomato.


                    2. re: MikeG

                      I have been on an endless quest to make a consistently great tomato sauce, and have tried many of the canned varieties of tomato. Trader Joe's whole tomatoes are my current favorite, and I'm no longer spending $3.99 a can for the marzanos, when TJ's are around $1.

                      The TJ's tomatoes are small and torpedo shaped like a real marzano, and produce a sweet sauce, unlike some of the more bitter canned varieties.

                      1. re: tedm

                        Hmm. There is no Trader Joes's around here, but I only saw one place that wanted that as much as $3.99 and that's for the San Marzano DOP tomatoes. (I didn't buy them since I'm sure I'll find the same brand for less somewhere else.) The three DOP brands I've bought already were less than $3, and all the others including the San Marzano types are less than $2, usually well below. But then, I haven't really been looking in big supermarkets where prices are generally higher than the places I shop.

                        1. re: MikeG

                          I guess I should've said there's no Trader Joes I know of - in NYC, accessible without a car. If it turns out there is one I'd definitely check it out after the interesting things I've heard people find there!

                2. As a general matter, when "onion" is specified in a recipe for cooking, you should use regular, unglamorous yellow storage onions. As noted before, Marcella has confirmed this for her books, but it is a good rule of thumb generally, especially for European-based recipes. Yellow storage onions, when cooked for a while, have the right balance of flavors, and actually have a bit more depth of sweetness than so-called sweet onions, IF you are cooking them for a while.

                  Very often, the workhorses of produce -- such as yellow storage onions -- are the best for good reason.

                  1. Just to clarify - a Spanish onion is a extra large yellow onion with pretty thick flesh and, I assume, a higher water content than the usual yellow cookers. In the olden days before vidalia and all the other new sweet types, it was the preferred onion of choice to slice on hamburgers, sandwiches and often to make onion rings. I wouldn't use Spanish onions often in regular cooking because they have so much water that it takes forever to caramelize.