Cranberry Agrodolce: Thanksgiving Recipe

by Peter Candia
cranberry sauce

To some, cranberry sauce is an essential side dish on Thanksgiving. To others, it is a gelatinous monstrosity that they simply plop out of a can onto a plate in order to keep with tradition. I find myself somewhere in between: I think cranberry sauce is a must for the table during the holiday season, but I tend to dislike almost every single one I come across. 

This perplexed me. How can I make a cranberry sauce that is both delicious and fitting for the holidays? I found my answer through the inspiration of a classic Italian agrodolce.

Agrodolce means sour and sweet in Italian and the sauce comes in hundreds of different forms. In Sicily, red wine vinegar will be combined with honey, pine nuts and dried fruit and used as a condiment for meats and vegetables. In other areas, balsamic is used to add a deeper sweetness thanks to the rich characteristics of the noir-hued vinegar. Today, you see agrodolces popping up on menus all over and it is a trend that I am hoping sticks around for good. 

For Thanksgiving this year, I am making a cranberry agrodolce using locally grown cranberries and Keepwell Bitter Lemon Vinegar— both can be purchased from Illuminate Food in Montclair, NJ. 


  • 1 pound of cranberries
  • 1 cup of shelled pistachios or nuts of your choosing 
  • 5 tbsp of Keepwell Bitter Lemon Vinegar or vinegar of your choosing
  • 1 cup of honey 
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Water as needed
  • Optional: 3 tbsp unsalted butter


  1. In a saucepan on medium heat, add EVOO, and shallots— season with salt. Cook until softened and slightly browned. Be careful not to scorch. 
  2. Lower heat and add cranberries, splash of water and honey.
  3. Cook covered and stirring occasionally. Smash cranberries with the back of a spoon or potato masher as they soften. 
  4. Add more water if the mixture becomes too thick.
  5. After one hour of cooking, add vinegar and cook on low for an hour longer.
  6. In a dry pan, toast pistachios until fragrant, but not burnt.
  7. Fold in pistachios and season with salt and black pepper to taste.
  8. If serving hot, stir in cold butter to emulsify.
  9. If serving cold, transfer to the fridge to cool.
    cranberry sauce simmering in a pot

    Cranberries Simmering

Why it Works

Cranberries are naturally rich in pectin, which when combined with sugar (honey) and acid (vinegar), will gel after cooling. This means that as the cranberries burst and combine with one another, they are naturally thickening your agrodolce simultaneously. This makes this recipe perfect for both cold and hot applications. 

This recipe is big in flavor. Cranberries are naturally tart, but vinegar adds a bite that cranberries simply don’t possess. Both parts balance out nicely when mixed with sugar or honey. You can play around with amounts and ingredients to your liking. Can’t find bitter lemon vinegar? Try apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar instead. Or, do you want to try maple syrup in place of honey for a deeper sweetness and different flavor profile? Go for it. The method remains straightforward so that you can innovate as you please. 

So, serve your turkey up this year with a side of cranberry agrodolce, or even throw it on top of roasted brussels sprouts to incorporate it into a composed dish. The options are endless to replace the normal cranberry sauce, but one thing is for certain— you won’t miss the canned variety. 

Fresh, locally grown cranberries are available all week at Illuminate Food in Montclair, NJ. Thanksgiving farm box orders have unfortunately passed, but Illuminate will be doing weekly orders for the entire holiday season. Sign up here and use code “NJDIGEST” for $10 off on a one-time farm box order or a subscription from now through December 31.


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About the Author/s

Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for writing midway through school and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. In addition to food, Peter enjoys politics, music, sports and anything New Jersey.

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