I realize that I’ve been terribly lax in updating here. Haole Girl Gourmet has been pushed to the periphery of my priorities for the last six months as I’ve taken on new roles at work, and continued to keep up with my regularly busy spring schedule of shows. I assure you that I’ve been eating; I just haven’t been remembering to take pictures of the process or product, note down ingredients, or had any time to actually write about it. I’ve been missing the process of writing and the idea of an audience reading what I’ve written. I’m optimistic that I can begin posting more regularly for a while again.
A week or so ago (when I had a few consecutive days off) I did remember to bring a camera into the kitchen and note down ingredients and quantities. I roasted, simmered, sliced, caramelized, and stirred my way to one of the best things I’ve made in a while – French Onion Soup.
It was heavenly. The onions almost melting into the rich broth, flavors of garlic and thyme not overpowering but enhancing the oniony goodness, sourdough croutons floating on top of the rich liquid and clinging to a top layer of warm and bubbly gruyere . . . It was like taking a bite of pure ambrosia.
But onion soup, however heavenly it tastes, must have been, at its beginnings, peasant food. Onions are cheap and long lasting; they’ll sit all winter in the cellar or pantry. Broth or stock can be made from the bones and off-cuts of richer meals. Stale bread is an excellent way to thicken soup and to eek another meal out of an otherwise unappetizing bit of leftovers. With the exception of the cheese (a new addition for richer tastes and thicker wallets?) French Onion Soup has very down-to-earth beginnings.
Once you consider these origins, it gives you freedom to play with the recipe. (Peasants would use what they had, right?) Starting from Julia Child’s recipe for the soup in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I did a few things differently. I added garlic and thyme to the caramelizing onions and, perhaps most notably, I used chicken stock instead of beef. I’d made the stock a couple days prior starting with chicken legs and vegetables roasting in a low oven, simmering everything for hours on the stovetop. I was confident that I wouldn’t miss the beef stock. (If you wanted to use a rich vegetable broth you could easily make this soup vegetarian. And, if you omit the cheese at the end, vegan.) The chicken broth may upset purists, but I can assure you that the soup was wonderful and rich despite the substitution of a somewhat less rich meat product to begin with. And besides, I don’t cook red meat, so why should I use beef stock in my cooking either?
French Onion Soup
- 2 1/2 large onions, sliced
- 3 Tbsp. butter
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tsp. dried thyme
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. sugar
- 2 Tbsp. flour
- 1/2 cup white wine
- lemon juice from 1/2 a lemon
- 2 quarts stock or broth of your choosing (see above)
- 1/4 cup grated raw onion
- 1/2 cup finely grated pecorino cheese
- french bread, cut into 1″ cubes, stale and toasted in the oven
- 1/4 cup grated gruyere cheese per serving
In a large pot, heat the butter and oil over medium heat. Sweat the onions for about 15 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat so the onions don’t start to brown.
Add the garlic, thyme, salt and sugar. Increase the heat to med/high and caramelize the onions until they turn a lovely shade of golden brown. This should take another 15 minutes or so. Stir in the flour and cook another 2-3 minutes.
Deglaze the pot with the wine and lemon juice, being sure to scrape up any bits that are stuck to the bottom. Once the wine and lemon juice have been absorbed add the stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer, partially covered, for 30-40 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed. (If it’s not needed, by all means, don’t feel obliged to add any!)
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325 degrees and get out some serving bowls that can go in the oven. Toast your croutons and grate the gruyere. Grate some raw onion and pecorino cheese.
Once the soup is finished simmering (I suppose you could leave it on too long, but you’ll be hungry long before that happens so I wouldn’t worry about it!) turn off the heat and stir in the grated onion and pecorino.
Portion the soup into your oven-safe bowls, leaving some room on top. Fill the top of each bowl with a layer of croutons and sprinkle the gruyere over it all. Bake your bread and cheese topped soup in the oven for 10 mins or until you can’t stand it. Then, turn on the broiler and briefly broil the soup until the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown.