Today we had our first snow! Well, not really. After spending most of my life in a town that can easily be described as a winter wonderland and the last two years in Kazakhstan (which can only be described as Siberia), what happened today can in no way be described as a snowfall. However, I can say that today I spotted my first snowflake. And it should be obvious that snowflake=cold=time for French Onion Soup!
Onions are way underrated in my opinion, and it’s probably because we’ve been doing it wrong. Sure you might see diced onions sprinkled on top of your taco, or a few chopped onions in your chicken and dumplings, but when was the last time that onions got to play the lead? When is the last time you made a dish that showcased pearl onions perfectly roasted until their edges begin to blacken or onions that were slowly caramelized until they became so thick and sweet that they might be mistaken for jam?
Throw away any preconceived notion you might have of French Onion soup (especially if that notion includes anything that comes in a packet) and consider this: a savory soup that is hearty enough for even the coldest days of winter, that can be simple and healthy or a cheesy indulgence. Ready? Ok. Don’t be put off by the long cooking time of this soup, most of the time is inactive and the results are soooo worth it!
Last month, I was lucky enough to receive David Lebovitz’s new book My Paris Kitchen for my birthday. There are a lot of really great food blogs out there and I have a long list of favorites, but if you forced me to pick only one to read for the rest of my life, I would choose his without even thinking twice. Aside from publishing recipes that NEVER fail me, and providing witty accounts of life in Paris and travels around France that never cease to entertain me, the man loves good butter almost as much as I do. The book is filled with yummy recipes (and gorgeous photos), like artichoke tapenade, coq a vin, braised guinea hen with figs, and a recipe for leeks with mustard-bacon vinagrette that I can not wait to try. There’s also a healthy (or not so healthy depending on how you look at it) dessert section which boasts a variety of delightful treats such as coffee creme brûlée, salted butter caramel chocolate mousse, and buttermilk ice-cream with olive oil and flour de sel. Um, yum. Still, as soon as I leafed through this lovely book I knew that the first recipe I would try would be for French Onion Soup.
A few notes about the method here. First of all, caramelizing onions is not difficult, but it does take time. Don’t stress yourself out, make this on a weekend. Secondly, you can use chicken or beef stock, or you can use better than bullion in any flavor (if you go this route, start with a little less than recommended on the jar…that stuff is salty). The soup calls for white wine or sherry, but I used red wine and loved it. Moral-don’t let not having the right wine come in between you and this soup. Finally, the amount of cheese here is up to you. Traditionally, this soup is served with a truckload of melted cheese that clings to the spoon with every bite. I think this is designed to make you look more attractive when you eat it at a business lunch or on a date, because who doesn’t look better with strings of gruyere hanging from their mouth? That’s right no one. If a you are looking for something a little lighter (or *ahem* already ate most of the cheese while you were waiting for the onions to caramelize) I enjoyed my portion just as much with a less generous sprinkle.
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2½ pounds onions
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 teaspoons flour
- ¾ cup wine (the original recipe calls for white wine, but I used a bit of merlot that happened to be open)
- 2 quarts beef stock (not gonna lie, I used better than bouillon this time, and loved it)
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 loaf of crusty French bread (sliced into pieces that cover your bowls and toasted)
- Gruyere (I'll leave the amount up to you)
- In a large pot melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for about 10 minutes until translucent. Add a small pinch of salt and the sugar and continue cooking for about 20 more minutes.
- Reduce heat to medium low and add garlic, salt, and pepper and cook for about an hour-stiring occasionally, until the onions are caramel brown in color.
- Stir in the flour and cook for one minute. Add wine and stock. Stir until well combined and all of the browned bits are released from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 40 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
- Just before the soup is finished toast the bread. You can do this on a pan in the oven, or in your toaster. The important thing is to get it really crispy, because it's going straight into the soup.
- Taste the soup. (Ha! Like you need to be reminded to to this!) But really, give it a taste and adjust with salt, pepper, and vinegar until you like it.
- Place your oven save soup bowls on a cookie sheet. Dish the soup into the bowls, and top with bread and your desired amount of cheese. Bake for 10-20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly.