I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that, what Mozart did for the string quintet, Mario Batali does for onions in this “Rigatoni with Five Lilies.” Vidalias, red onions, leeks, scallions, chives—they’re all culinary instruments in the same family, and here they come together to form something rich and sonorous, each lily offering a subtle variation on the same caramelized flavor.
By the end of cooking, you have a delicious purple-golden mash—its sweetness tempered by salty shavings of ricotta salata and peppery herbs—the rigaoni nested happily below.
Rigatoni with Five Lilies and Ricotta Salata
Adapted from The Babbo Cookbook, by Mario Batali
Yield: 4 servings
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound Vidalia onions, halved then cut into ¼-inch slices
2-4 tablespoons butter
5 medium garlic cloves, minced
½ pound leeks, cut into 1/8-inch rings and washed
½ pound red onions, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
½ cup water
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound rigatoni
4 ounces ricotta salata, coarsely grated
¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 small bunch chives, chopped
Lemon wedges, optional
In a large saute pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the Vidalia onions, and reduce the heat. Cook over medium-low, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent; then raise the heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until deeply golden and caramelized. Remove the pan from the heat, and transfer the onions to a bowl. Set aside.
In the same skillet, heat the butter over medium heat until the foam subsides. Add the garlic, leeks, red onion, and scallions, and cook, stirring regularly, until very soft and golden. Add the water, and cook until the liquid evaporates. Season lightly with salt. Remove from the heat, and stir in the sweet onions.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the rigatoni until tender but al dente. In the last minute of cooking, return the onion mixture to medium-high heat. Drain the pasta and add it to the onion mixture, tossing over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and toss more, if necessary, to thoroughly disperse the onions amidst the pasta. Serve immediately in warmed bowls, topped with plenty of ricotta salata and sprinklings of parsley and chives. Season to taste and add lemon juice if desired.