Parmigiana di Cipolla di Cannara / Onion Casserole from Cannara

Cannara, a small town near the ceramic center of Deruta, in Umbria, is known as the onion capital of Italy and many traditional dishes from antipasto to main dishes feature the humble onion as the central ingredient. So revered are the onions of Cannara that every September a sagra (festival) is held called la festa della cipolla (the onion festival), where visitors can get their fill of all sorts of tasty onion dishes. My favorite is this exquisite fried onion and ragu casserole laced with cream sauce.  Ragu sauces denote those with meat and are cooked for a long time and differ from place to place in Italy. Umbrian ragus are not as common as other types; this one is easy to make and is also good as a sauce on a short cut  of pasta such as rigatoni. The sauce can be prepared up to  5 days ahead and can also be frozen. The dish should be prepared in stages to make the final assembly easy. This outstanding casserole will be a hit on any buffet party table.


  • Cream Sauce
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 4 cups whole milke
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
  • Filling
  • 2 lbs red onions, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch thick rings
  • 5 tbsp flour
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1/2 lb mozzarella cheese, diced
  • 6 tbsp grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Ragu Sauce
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3/4 lb ground pork
  • 1/4 lb ground beef
  • 1/4 lb cooked ham, diced
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine
  • 4 large plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • grinding of coarse black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg


  1. Making the cream sauce: Melt the butter over medium heat in a 2-quart saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook the mixture until it 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 the sauce from the heat, 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.
  2. Making the ragu sauce: Melt the butter over medium heat in a sauté pan, and cook the carrot, celery, and onion until the mixture is soft. Stir in the pork and beef and brown well. Stir in the ham. Cook 1 minute longer. Raise the heat to high, pour in the wine and allow it to evaporate. Stir in the tomatoes, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Lower the heat and simmer the sauce, covered, for 35 minutes.
  3. Put the onion rings in a large paper bag with the flour. Close the bag and shake it to lightly coat the rings. Heat 1 cup of the vegetable oil in a heavy duty pot or sauté pan, and when the oil begins to shimmer, add the onions in batches, and brown them on both sides. As they brown remove them to paper-lined baking sheets. Add more oil as needed to cook all the onions.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread 1/2 cup of the cream sauce in the bottom of a 13x8 1/2 x2-inch casserole or similar dish.
  5. Spread 2 cups of the ragu over the cream sauce. Spread 1/3 of the onion mixture over the ragu, 1/3 of the mozzarella over the onions, 1/2 cup of the cream sauce over the mozzarella cheese, and 2 tablespoons of the Parmigiano cheese over the mozzarella cheese. Make two more layers in the same manner. Pour the remaining cream sauce over the casserole.
  6. Bake uncovered for 30 to 35 minutes or until it is bubbly and hot.

This recipe was featured on Season 12 - Episode 1206.

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