Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Onion Soup

I was first introduced to French-onion soup back when Panera was the Saint Louis Bread Company and it was located only in Saint Louis. We were staying at a hotel that just happened to be within walking distance of this glorious cafe that served the hearty soup in a bread bowl. My sisters and mother and I would scrape the insides of the bowl clean with our spoons, sopping up the soggy bread. But I soon shied away from the aromatic concoction when I hit college, started eating badly and was plagued with painful and embarassing gastrointestinal issues (if you catch my drift--no pun intended). The simple onion soup was out for years and years and years. Until a couple weeks ago when my dad ordered it for lunch at Granite City.

Neither Emily nor I had heard him order, we were probably absorbed in something related to Harry Potter. But when the waitress brought out his soup, covered in a slice of melted cheese, we were immediately interested. We begged for one little sip. We wanted to know what kind of cheese that was. Did they use gouda, gruyere, Swiss, parmesan? Were there little chunks of crouton floating in it? We ordered a cup of our own, to share.

My mom made a batch later that week, the leftovers of which I enjoyed with aged gouda. Then when I finally retreated back to my own home, post-Thanksgiving, instead of delving into my fridge packed with leftovers, I made onion soup following Nigel Slater's recipe from Tender with a little help from Julia Child. That was the first recipe I had made from Slater's 500-some-page tome about his vegetable patch, complete with jelousy-inducing photos every few pages. I still haven't made it all the way through the volume that includes recipes on a couple dozen common garden vegetables.
The soup, it went too fast. After only two servings. It was splendid with parmesan cheese (which I was too lazy to bake to melting point) and soggy sourdough, but it stands well alone. Barely sweet yet dark and savory. It's a fine companion on a dark winter night.
Onion Soup:
3 large onions, sliced
3 tablespoons butter
bay leaf (I added rosemary and thyme only because I had them)
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 cups beef stock
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup red wine plus a teaspoon of sugar or cognac

Slice the onions julienne. A trick I learned in school is to cut the onion in half and then slice along the perforated ribs of the vegetable to get beautiful, sexy slivers. Saute the onions in melted butter on medium-low heat for 25 to 30 minutes until softened but not browned, stirring occasionally. Add the bay leaf and flour. Stir to coat the onions with the flour. Add the wine, let simmer for a minute. Add the stock. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to let it simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the wine with sugar or cognac or madeira, let simmer another five minutes. Serve in bowls topped with a slice of mild and aged cheese. Pop the bowls in the oven at 350 for five minutes to let the cheese melt. Serve.

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