Layered Onion Casserole from Cannara / Parmigiana di Cipolla di Cannara

Cannara, a small town near the ceramic center of Deruta, is known as the onion capital of Italy, and many traditional dishes from antipasto to main courses feature the humble onion as the central ingredient. So revered are the onions of Cannara that every September La Festa della Cipolla (The Onion Festival) is held, and visitors can get their fill of all sorts of delicious onion dishes. My favorite is this exquisite fried onion and ragu casserole laced with a velvety cream sauce. The dish should be prepared in stages to make the final assembly easy. I make the cream sauce and the ragu several days ahead and refrigerate them. The onions are cooked just before the final assembly. The ragu recipe can be found here.

Serves 6 to 8


  • 1/4 pound pancetta in 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and quartered
  • 1 medium rib celery, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/2 pound skirt steak or chuck blade steak, coarsely ground
  • 1/2 pound boneless veal shoulder, coarsely ground
  • 1/2 pound boneless pork loin, coarsely ground
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Pinch ground nutmeg (Optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup milk or cream
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 pounds Spanish onions, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch thick rings
  • 5 tablespoons flour
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 8 ounces mozzarella cheese, diced
  • 6 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


  1. Follow the directions for making the ragu and set aside if assembling the dish that day, or refrigerate the ragu for up to 5 days for later assembly.
  2. To make the cream sauce:  Melt the butter in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat.  Stir in the flour and cook until the mixture is smooth but not browned.  Slowly pour in the milk and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Remove from the heat and stir in the salt and nutmeg.  Cover the pot and set aside or refrigerate the sauce if you are planning to make the casserole a few days later.
  3. Have ready 2 baking sheets lined with paper towels.
  4. Place the onion rings in a large paper bag with the flour.  Close the bag and shake it to lightly coat the rings.
  5. Heat 1 cup of vegetable oil in a heavy-duty pot or sauté pan.  When the oil begins to shimmer, add the onions in batches and brown on both sides.  As they brown, remove them to the paper-lined baking sheets.  Add more oil as needed to cook all the onions.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  7. Spread 1/2 cup of cream sauce in the bottom of a 13 × 8 1/2 × 2-inch casserole or similar dish.
  8. Spread 2 cups of ragu over the cream sauce.  Spread one-third of the onions over the ragu, one-third of the mozzarella over the onions, 1/2 cup of cream sauce over the mozzarella, and 2 tablespoons of Parmigiano-Reggiano over the mozzarella.  Continue, making 2 more layers in the same manner.  Pour the remaining cream sauce over the casserole.
  9. Bake, uncovered, for 30 to 35 minutes, or until it is bubbly and hot.  Serve immediately.

This recipe was featured on Season 12 - Episode 1206.

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