1 1/2 pounds small white boiling onions (or substitute Cipollini or pearl onions)
1/2 cup or so of olive oil, divided
1/4 cup good quality balsamic vinegar plus more for drizzling over the finished dish
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons white sugar
For the Carrots:
2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut on the diagonal into 1/3” slices
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
For the Fennel:
2 large fennel bulbs or 3 small, long stems and fronds removed. Save some of the frilly fronds for a garnish.
For the Squash:
1 1/2 – 2 pounds delicata squash (4 small or 3 large)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses
For The Asparagus:
1 pound pencil thin asparagus (or as thin as you can find), washed and ends trimmed by an inch or so.
2–3 tablespoons good balsamic glaze or good quality balsamic vinegar to drizzle over the antipasto
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Make the Agrodolce Onions: Fill a large pot halfway with water and bring to a boil. Put the onions in and when the water returns to a boil, set the timer for 2 minutes. (Note: if using tiny pearl onions boil for only 1 minute) Meanwhile prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with water and ice.Transfer the onions to the ice bath and leave them to cool for 5-10 minutes. Transfer cooled onions to a cutting board. Slice off their root ends and give them a squeeze towards the top. They should pop right out of their skins. If you have trouble, make a little slice down the side. If any of the onions are a lot larger than the rest, slice them in half through the middle – not through the tip and root ends.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium high heat in a large heavy skillet with a lid. Add onions carefully because the oil will splatter. Sauté onions, partially covered to reduce splattering, for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are softened and nicely browned on several sides. (Note: if you use tiny pearl onions the cooking time will be less) Add the sugar, 1/4 cup vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Continue to cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes until onions are coated nicely with sweet and sour sauce. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Roast the Carrots and Fennel: You’ll need a large bowl and two rimmed baking sheets. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Put the sliced carrots into the bowl. Cut the fennel bulbs in half lengthwise. Carefully cut out the little triangular core piece from each half. Then cut each half down the middle, through the hole where the core was. Pull off the outer leaf of each quarter, if it’s brown or bruised. Cut each quarter into 1/4-inch thick slices, lengthwise (see photo in the post) Put cut fennel in the bowl with the carrots. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Toss to coat. Spread carrots and fennel pieces out into a single layer on two rimmed baking trays. Cook in the upper and lower shelves of the oven for 30 minutes, flipping the vegetable over with a spatula and switching the position of the trays halfway through. Transfer vegetables to a bowl. Keep the oven on and don’t wash trays – you’ll use them to roast the squash.
Prepare and Roast the Squash: Lay the squash on it’s side and cut it in half through the middle – not through the root ends. Then slice off each root end. Scoop out the seeds from each half so you have two empty cylinders. Cut 1/4-inch slices across, making thin circles of squash. Repeat with the other squash. Put the slices in a large bowl. Add two tablespoons olive oil, two tablespoons balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Toss to coat. Spread squash out into a single layer on the two baking trays and cook in the top and bottom of the oven for 30-35 minutes, until soft, flipping squash and switching the position of the trays halfway through.
Cook the Asparagus: Spread 1 tablespoon olive oil over the bottom of a large skillet, and heat over medium-high heat. Cook asparagus, shifting and tossing them gently, for 4-7 minutes, depending on how thin they are, until they are bright green, crisp-tender, and browned in spots. Transfer to a plate. For very fat asparagus add a tablespoon of water, cover the pot, and let them steam for a few minutes after browning.
Assemble the Antipasto: Arrange vegetables on a platter. Drizzle everything with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2-3 tablespoons balsamic glaze or pomegranate molasses. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. Add fennel fronds to garnish. Serve warm or at room temperature.