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The red torpedo onion is an heirloom onion native to Calabria, Italy, where it has been cultivated since before the birth of Christ. This onion has a long history for a reason: it has an incomparable flavor which has made it enduringly popular in the Mediterranean. These onions can be found for sale in some specialty markets, and they can also be cultivated in the home garden, although some people believe that the famed onions of Torpea, a town in Calabria, have the best flavor.
These onions look roughly like footballs, and they are covered in a papery red to purple skin. The flesh of the onion is white, with a red edge, and extremely sweet. These onions are also very pungent, with a sharp note which balances out the sweet flavor. Because this onion does not keep well, it is generally a seasonal delicacy, available only when these vegetables mature in the mid-fall.
These onions have a mild flavor which makes them suitable for use raw. Raw torpedo onions can be added to salads, sandwiches, and other dishes. The onions may also be pickled and used in a variety of ways, with some people enjoying a pickled red torpedo onion straight. Pickled onions can also be wedged and used as a garnish for a variety of dishes, and they are not uncommon in blends of pickled vegetables in Italy.
Cooking brings out the natural sweetness of the red torpedo onion, caramelizing it slightly creates a very rich flavor. These onions can be used in soups, stews, sauces, and so forth, and they are also popular on pizza, grilled and served as an appetizer, and in stuffings.
Onions are profoundly affected by the soil they grow in. Depending on the contents of the soil, this onion may develop a more aggressive sulfurous flavor, or it may remain mild. Gardeners who want to grow these onions at home should try planting them in several environments to find the “sweet spot” in the garden where they will grow well and taste right. Onions need fertile, well-drained soil and at least six hours of sun a day to thrive, and they should be planted after the last frost has passed.
If a recipe calls for a red torpedo onion and you have difficulty finding one, you can use a regular red onion or a Vidalia onion as a stand in, because both of these onion cultivars are naturally sweet.