Do Italians from Italy Cook Onions and Garlic Together in the Same Pot?

I was just watching a cooking video of Mark Bittman from the New York Times. He mentioned how he was cooking once with an Italian who told him that they don’t cook garlic and onions together in the same pan in Italy. This surprised him. This surprised me!

I grew up cooking garlic and onions together as the first step in my Italian tomato sauce. This was how my Italian grandmother taught it to my mother. It’s how my mother taught it to me. I assume it’s how my grandmother’s mother from Italy taught her to make it. Any Italians from Italy like to let us know if they cook onions and garlic together in the same pot? Feel free to comment below.

Btw Bittman seemed reluctant to believe it and so am I!

-Mama Lisa

This article was posted on Wednesday, June 11th, 2008 at 9:38 am and is filed under Countries & Cultures, Cuisine, Customs and Traditions, Italian, Italy, Mama Lisa, Questions, Recipes of the World. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

28 Responses to “Do Italians from Italy Cook Onions and Garlic Together in the Same Pot?”

  1. Mank Says:

    I can confirm that we DO NOT cook onion and garlic together!

  2. Betty Says:

    your mom and your grandmom (and all the women before them) were perfectly right! Even if we don’t put them together all the time, there are many typical Italian dishes cooked with both garlic and onion. The most known is the “bolognese” made of tomato souce and mince meat!
    Greetings from Italy and BUON APPETITO!!

  3. Robin Michetti Says:

    What a shame that there are no recordings of the melodies. The words alone are so lifeless without them. Can you not include the songs themselves so that we can learn them and sing them and pass them onto our children and grandchildren?
    Robin Michetti

  4. Lisa Says:

    We have many midi tunes and mp3 recordings on Mama Lisa’s World.

    We’re always adding more and we always welcome for people to send us new recordings.

  5. Camilla Says:

    I learned to cook from a woman in Rome who was adamant that I never cook onions and garlic together in the same dish. That has stuck with me and I never use onions and garlic in the same dish…I still hear Maria’s voice in my head. I think that Italians do not; Italian-Americans do. At least that’s what I’ve found.

  6. Marci Says:

    NEVER in Roman or Emilia-Romagna cooking!! Southern regions are more apt to use both.

  7. Lisa Says:

    That makes sense because my grandmother’s family is from the Napoli region.

  8. Cayobo Says:

    I don’t get it. If I make a red gravy, I’m not supposed to use garlic and onion in it? Or can I saute the garlic and onion separately, then add them to the gravy? BTW, we were taught to always call it gravy, NEVER sauce.

  9. Lisa Says:

    I personally cook the onion and garlic together. I’m curious where sauce is called gravy. I’ve never heard of that before. Is it in the South?

  10. Paolo Says:

    In my family they do both ingredients either separated or together, depending on the dish. It’s true though that some people believe they are better separated (I don’t).
    One question’s on my head: why italians do not digest, or claim not to digest, garlic, onions and peppers, especially raw? I never met people with this class of problems abroad. I think it’s lack of their use in early life, or just a fixation…

  11. Joanne S Says:

    My mother told me not to, and she never cooked these two together in sauce. I asked my foodie husband if he’d ever heard this. He had not. Mother’s family was from Mazara del Vallo, Sicily, Italy.

  12. Joanne S Says:

    By the way, my husband routinely puts them together. We keep antacids on the nightstand…just sayin’.

  13. Pablo Libre Says:

    Yes, parts of Italy don’t combine onion and garlic. Maybe it’s taste to a select few but for the most part it’s just a superstitious teaching. How about improvising as any descent chef would do with any recipe and see what you and your family likes best. This stifling of the creative process is part of the reason there are many good Italian dishes but none that stand out as great dishes when measured against the World’s cuisine.

  14. Patrizia Gibilterra Says:

    Never onions and garlic together.

  15. Maitreyi Says:

    Here in India our Guru advises the same thing, onion and garlic never cooked together in same dish as a rule. He says when they are cooked together it creates toxicity. There is often a deeper wisdom behind traditional cooking norms which our foremothers and fathers out of heightened sensitivity were able to understand!
    Happy cooking and eating!

  16. Anthony N. Says:

    Not sure what most of the commenters are talking about, both my grandparents were right off the boat from Italy. My grandma was from Sicily and my grandpa from Campagna (Sorrento). There is absolutely garlic used in almost everything, not all, but most, and a lot of it.

  17. Dana weller Says:

    I just saw an episode of the talk Paul Sorvino was on which led me here
    He said never mix onions and garlic together in the same dish they cancel each other out and leave the dish with no taste
    These are my two biggest staples in cooking not sure i could choose. Yikes
    Thanks for the input everyone

  18. Lisa Says:

    I still make my tomato sauce with both onions and garlic!

  19. Joe Ney Says:

    I heard also if you cook garlic and onions together it cancels them out, so I tried it both ways and the sauce with onions and garlic had better flavor.

  20. Isabella Says:

    My mother was from outside Naples (Santa Lucia), and I’ve spent years there. They used onions and garlic together in many sauces…mostly red sauces from the Neapolitan region and farther south. In other areas (mostly to the north and with more delicate cream and/or wine sauces), they used one or the other so as not to overpower delicate flavorings like nutmeg or lemon or fresh herbs.

    Do they cancel each other out? Absolutely not. They are both fragrant, but with different aromas, and provide a savory or umami flavor to dishes. Use whichever one you like the most in the strength you like. If you like sweet, savory…use shallots and garlic instead of onions and garlic. Cooking these two aromatics low (heat) and slow (for longer) will result in carmelization and a sweeter result.

    Use your nose and your taste buds to cook…not a formula. If you do that and use great ingredients, you will be happy with your cooking.

  21. Giuseppe Says:

    In all the years I lived there in the South, residents of the Benevento area were the only ones who used the combination on a regular basis. They were all considered a bit pazzo, a bit mad.
    Of course the women there are all considered witches too since three rivers join in Benevento. I guess a witch can cook any way she wishes.

  22. mary Says:

    I agree with Guiseppe. My family only sautés onions for tomato gravy; however, we do put chopped garlic in the meatballs. Mangia!

  23. Gabry Says:

    I live in Italy and onions and garlic do not go together in the same dish, there are specific dishes, meats and fish that require one or the other but not together. Most of the time fish calls for garlic, not onions for instance. If we use garlic it is only one max 2 cloves no more then that and most of the time it will be added whole and removed before serving, in the US they tend to put tons of garlic in Italian American dishes but they are not original italian recipes. Both onions and garlic are powerful, especially garlic, together one will over power the other. In Italian cooking the goal is to compliment the dish, by using too much garlic for instance the flavors of the other ingredients get lost, all you taste is garlic.

  24. Danny matthews Says:

    Not together. Oil with garlic and butter for cooking onions. Stick to these rules and all is well.

  25. Mark Says:

    My grandparents immigrated from Matera, Italy. My grandmother always mixed garlic and onions. When I was in the Army, I used to cook some kicked up chili for the guys & gals. I would fry onoins with a stick of butter and fry a bulb of crushed garlic with a cup of olive oil. Then i’d mix them together with the meat, beans and spices. Everybody loved it. In fact, that’s how I met my wife. Now that’s Italian southwest style here in AZ.

  26. Sara Says:

    I think in some areas and recipes it can work, but normally no, you don’t make a soffritto with onion and garlic together. They go with different sauces also, and it’s very uncommon to have fish sauce made with onion while onion or garlic in tomatoes based sauces depends on the recipe. And never exaggerate with both of them!!!!! I hope i have helped a little. I am italian, and living in Italy:-)

  27. Jack Says:

    I can definitely tell you guys that in Spanish cuisine “Is a Must” Sautéing Onion and Garlic is like the wholly trinity (Oil, Onion & Garlic and in that order)

  28. Kristen Says:

    I learned to make sauce (marinara abd sauce with meat) from my Sicilian mom, who learned from her mom, who learned from her mom, and so on. Our red sauce does not have onions and I have never liked any Italian sauce made with onion. To me it has an unpleasant too sweet taste. Garlic yes. I do use onion and garlic in some recipes I make, although I’m hard pressed to think of any Italian dishes I make that uses both.

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