Italy boasts many varieties of onion, but perhaps due to its unique sweetness, the most famous and appreciated, even abroad, is Cipolla di Tropea – the Sweet Red Onion of Tropea.
Cultivated for over two thousand years, it is a speciality of the picturesque area of Calabria, famous for its sweet red onions and named after the glamorous town of Tropea, where this onion even has its own festival. the Sweet Red Onion of Tropea has DOP status, like Champagne, from that region.
One of the most delectable and widely requested products of the area, Cipolla di Tropea is particularly appreciated also outside of Italy for the sweet flesh and very good organoleptic qualities – all the aspects of food that we experience via the senses, including taste, sight, smell, and touch.
The shape of its bulbs, of a deep purple colour, vary from round to oval. Its extraordinary sweetness, its delicate scent, its lightness and refined taste, make it a much sought after ingredient by gourmets and chefs.
Cipolla di Tropea is a particularly useful onion to grow. It has a medium-early cycle for mid-early production and can be sown in either autumn, September to October or in spring, late February to early April. Used both as a bunching onion and for cooking, they make a good winter crop in full sun in rich well drained soil. Harvest after tops dry off and fall over, hang in a cool dry place. The deep purple-red coloured bulbs can be stored for 2 to 3 months.
In addition to be eaten raw in salads, the Red Tropean onion can be prepared in several different ways: baked, boiled, as a filling for frittata (omelette). The sweet taste, the fleshiness and the crunchy quality of make it ideal for mirepoix, a mixed salad of fresh tomatoes, olives and oregano. The bulbs are uniquely sweet and can almost be eaten like an apple. The high sugar content means it caramelises well and the smaller size bulbs are excellent for the preparation of pickles.
In Tropea, it is used to produce a delicious onion marmalade, to be consumed on crostini, as an appetiser or as an accompaniment to roasts. Another delicacy is a marmalade of onion and roasted peppers, a perfect accompaniment for roasts. A basic onion tart is a typical dish of the area of Tropea.
The red Tropean onion can be the main ingredient of many goodies, including even jam and ice cream. La Bomba Vatican is the result of combining the red onion and the traditional chili Calabria and used, above all, to flavour sauces.
There is no doubt that Cipolla di Tropea is one of the most interesting products in the entire Italian agriculture.
Choose an open, sunny site with good drainage which has preferably been dug and manured in the previous autumn. Do not plant or sow on freshly manured bed. Lime if the soil is acid. Avoid planting in an area where the previous crop was of the onion family. Many exhibitors grow their show onions in a permanent bed in order to build up fertility, but in the kitchen plot it is a much better idea to change the site annually.
Apply a general fertiliser if needed and rake the surface when the soil is reasonably dry. Tread over the area and then rake again to produce a fine, even tilth.
Timing: Sow in Autumn or Late Winter to Spring
Seeds can be sown direct in autumn to be harvested in 46 weeks to produce large bulbs (not advisable in very cold areas) Otherwise sow in February under cloches or direct March to April and harvest in 22 weeks. In cold areas and for exhibition bulbs sow under glass in January, harden off in March and transplant outdoors in April.
Sow very thinly in 12mm (½in) deep drills, leaving about 20 to 25cm (8 to 10in) between rows. Water very gently if the soil is dry, and cover with soil.
When large enough to handle, thin the crop in two stages. Close spacing will give smaller onions than wider spacings. Lift the seedlings carefully – the soil should be moist and all thinnings removed to deter onion fly. (They may be used as spring onions) .
Thin Spring-sown seedlings first to 2.5cm (1in) then when the seedlings have straightened up to 5 to 10cm (2 to 4in) apart. Thin Autumn sown onion seedlings to about 2.5cm (1in) in the autumn. Further thin to about 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4in) between plants in the Spring.
Seedlings raised under glass should be transplanted 4in (10cm) apart, leaving 9in (23cm) between the rows. The roots must fall vertically in the planting hole and the bulb base should be about 12mm (½ in) below the surface. Plant firmly.
Hoe carefully or weed by hand – dense weed growth will seriously affect yield. Water if the weather is dry (not otherwise) and feed occasionally. Feed an autumn-sown crop in March. Mulching is useful for cutting down the need for water and for suppressing weeds. Break off any flower stems which appear. Stop watering once the onions have swollen and pull back the covering earth or mulch to expose the bulb surface to the sun.
When the bulb is mature the foliage turns yellow and topples over. (Some gardeners bend over the tops as the leaves start to yellow). Leave them for about 2 weeks and then carefully lift with a fork on a dry day.
Inspect the bulbs carefully – all damaged, soft, spotted and thick-necked onions should be set aside for kitchen use or freezing. The rest can be stored.
The onions which are not for immediate use must be thoroughly dried. Spread out the bulbs on sacking or in trays – outdoors if the weather is warm and sunny.
Drying will take 7 to 21 days, depending on the size of the bulbs and the air temperature..
Store in trays, net bags, tights or tie to a length of cord as onion ropes.
Choose a cool and well-lit place; they will keep until late spring
Grown by hand on the clay cliffs that descend from Mount Poro towards the sea between Cape Vaticano, Zambrone, Tropea and Briatico, in the provinces of Cosenza and Vibo Valentia, the Tropea Onion was brought to Calabria by the Greeks, who had discovered it thanks to the Assyrians and Babylonians. However, it was the Arabs who perfected its cultivation in Tropea, where they settled for some time, and contributed to its spreading through the region.
Quotes are found in the writings of numerous travelers who arrived in Calabria between 700 and 800 and by visiting the Tyrrhenian coast from Pizzo Tropea, spoke of red onions in topic.
The area of production of this ecotype is well defined and encompasses the coastal medium-high Tyrrhenian of Calabria, areas of the provinces of Cosenza, Catanzaro and Vibo Valentia. The cultivation prefers fresh soils, medium texture and loose enough, overlooking the sea. The climatic conditions (soil, temperature, humidity, hours of light) of the area of the upper-middle of the Tyrrhenian coast of Calabria, the unique genetic makeup and human ingenuity, are the exclusive responsibility of the sublime physical and chemical composition of this onion.
‘Cipolle di Tropea’ commonly known as The Sweet Red Onion of Tropea are grown in an area which stretches in both directions along the coast from Tropea in Calabria.
Calabria is a region in southern Italy, actually the ‘toe’ of the Italian peninsula, as is called. It is surrounded by the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas, with about 400 Km of beautiful indented coastline, considered by many as the most beautiful in Italy. Tourism in Calabria is shared by the sun lovers who crowd the coast between late spring and early autumn, and nature lovers, who trek in the beautiful National parks of the Sila and the Aspromonte, but also by the lovers of food and wine tourism coming from all over the world to have a mix of art and cooking in this lovely place.
The Festival of the Red Onion:
The cultivation of the famous red Tropean onion began mainly in Parghelia and Zambrone and then spread to Tropea and Capo Vaticano and Ricadi. The sweet taste, the fleshiness and the crunchy quality of the red Tropean onion make it one of the most delectable and widely requested products of the area.
Every year, in August, the Festival of the Red Onion is held in Ricadi, in the main village. The Festival is promoted by the local Council, in agreement with the Local Tourist Board and the organising Committee which is renewed every year. The organisers try to improve what the Festival offers every year, and are rewarded as more and more visitors and tourists take part in the activities of the Festival, which aims at increasing the value of the typically rural component of the area of Tropea - Capo Vaticano. The Festival organisers propose a revival of the ancient peasant values: love of the land, love of animals, interest in the harvest, a revival of local cuisine and a taste for genuine traditional foods.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 2.5gms Average Seed Count 750 Seeds Common Name Maincrop, Red Onion
Heritage (Italian 1500's)
Other Common Names The Sweet Red Onion of Tropea Other Language Names The Sweet Red Onion of Tropea Family Alliaceae Genus Allium Species cepa Cultivar Cipolle di Tropea Hardiness Hardy Biennial Fruit Deep purple, round to oval bulbs Time to Sow Sown in either autumn, September to October or in spring, late February to early April. Germination 21 days Time to Harvest Standard Maincrop Notes Stored seed viability: 1-2 years.