Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bistro French Onion Soup hits the spot in winter

When one is too old for love, one finds great comfort in good dinners. – Zora Neale Hurston 

Bistro Onion Soup. Welcome, my friend, it's a nasty day outside...

That's a bit of a silly quote. Surely no one is too old to give and receive love. I suppose, if I couldn't experience love, dinner would be in the running as a substitute. This is, at the end of the day, a recipe that I just love. There's something about it that is hard to define – a delicious "deepness" that is wholly satisfying – especially during sleet/snow days like today in Nova Scotia. Comfort x food = happiness.

Low 'n slow to caramelize onions.
I’ve been making this from memory for over 20 years. I have no idea where the recipe may have originated. Some cookbook now buried in a box in my basement, I would imagine...

This is a really good "meatless" soup, but it does use beef stock. The cheese substitutes for meat a little, as does the bread, so it's filling and delicious.

The way to make a delicious soup of any kind – meatless or not – is to introduce lots of flavour. There are tricks.

Caramelizing the onions is the first way. Caramelizing their sugars adds depth of flavour. But just like caramelizing sugar for a dessert, you don’t want to burn it. So caramelize on medium heat, slowly.

All ready for toast and cheese.
Next up is cooking a little flour with the onions until it takes on a bit of a nutty taste, like the start of a roux. This can be done in a short time (2-3 minutes), and really makes a difference. This adds body to the broth as well.

After that it’s really up to good quality ingredients – good beef stock, fresh herbs, and nice, flavourful cheese. And don’t forget the bread but any "country" style loaf will do. Traditionally it's a crusty French baguette. I used my homemade whey bread. It was an excellent choice too. Nice and "sturdy."

This is a really great way to drive away the winter storm blahs, and you really don't have to have a lot of ingredients in the pantry. The only thing you may have to venture out for is the cheese.

Bistro-style French Onion Soup
Fresh from under the broiler, and piping hot.
Prep: 10 min  |  Cook: 30 min  |  6 servings
1/2 cup butter
8 medium onions (good sized medium)
5 garlic cloves
1/4 cup flour
5 cups good beef broth
1/2 cup sherry
2 tsp Dijon mustard (optional)
1-1/2 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped (1-1/2 tsp dried)
1 tsp cracked black pepper
salt to taste
1 French baguette, sliced and toasted*
2-1/2 cups gruyere cheese, grated (or Swiss)

Heat 1/4 cup of the butter in a Dutch oven or other oven-safe pot.

Slice the onions, thin but not too thin, and add to the pot. Then chop and add the garlic. Sauté the onions and garlic over medium heat, stirring often. Sauté until they begin to caramelize (turn golden), but are not burnt. While the onions caramelize, toast the baguette slices and set aside.

Add the second 1/4 cup of butter to the pot. After it is melted, sprinkle the onions with 1/4 cup of flour. Mix together well and let the onions cook for a further 2-3 minutes until the flour starts to colour slightly.

Add the beef broth, sherry, Dijon (if using), tarragon and black pepper. Let the soup come to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes. Make sure to scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pot as it simmers.

Taste the soup for salt. You may not need any depending on the saltiness of your stock. Adjust the pepper and tarragon at this time as well, if desired. Keep the soup hot.

Grate the cheese and set aside. Layer enough toasted baguette to cover the surface of the soup. Sprinkle the toast with 1/2 of the cheese. Add another layer of toast and finally the remaining cheese. If desired, sprinkle the top with a little pepper.

Broil the soup until the cheese bubbles. Serve immediately.

* You need to have enough toast slices to cover the top of the soup in two layers.


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