Wednesday, January 4, 2012

French Onion Soup

I love hearty, meaty, bean-filled soups any time of the year, but if you asked me which my favorite was, you might be surprised to hear it's actually French Onion soup. Why a simple soup with next to nothing but onions in it? I don't know, but there is something comforting about a rich broth that for once isn't over-powered by vegetables or meat, with a layer of melted cheese on top.

Onions as a basis for soup is not a new concept, as they were cheap and easy to come by for the poor in all parts of the world. In fact, we can date onion soup back to 250 BC. The Persians and ancient Greeks recognized onions for their varied health benefits, such as anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, and as a result they nourished their foot soldiers with dried bits of bread soaking in an onion soup. However, King Louis XV is credited with the origination of the French Onion Soup. When the French King found himself at his hunting lodge with only onions, cheese and champagne, he put them together into a simple version of the French Onion soup we eat today.

I have been trying to find out where this recipe originated from, but without any luck. It's my favorite homemade version because it uses fresh herbs, beef stock and a little brandy. You can make this without the brandy, of course, but even just a touch of it brings out a quality in flavor that reminds me of the best restaurant French onion soups.

French Onion Soup

1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 large onions, finely sliced
5 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme (or a 1/2 teaspoon dried)
4 tablespoons flour
2 1/4 quarts beef stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups Gruyere or Swiss cheese, grated or sliced
2 tablespoons brandy (optional)
1 loaf French bread, sliced and toasted

In large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat butter and olive oil on medium high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20-40 minutes or until browned and caramelized. This step is an exercise in patience, but the flavor derived from properly caramelized onions is essential to this dish.

Putting 1 clove of garlic aside, finely chop the rest and add to the onions. Add sugar and thyme; reduce heat to a simmer and continue cooking for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Sprinkle flour into the pan and stir until well-blended.

Stir in wine and beef stock and bring to a boil. Skim off foam, if needed. Lower heat and simmer 45 minutes. Add brandy, if desired.

Heat the oven on the high broiler setting and rub each slice of toasted French bread with reserved garlic. Place flame-proof soup bowls on a cookie sheet and fill 3/4 full with soup. Float a piece of toast in each bowl. Top with grated cheese, and broil 6 inches from the heat for 3-4 minutes. Let the cheese begin to melt and bubble. Serves 6.

1 comment:

  1. We love French Onion soup! I notice you have started to post again; really enjoy reading what you are up to. Wishing all the best for 2012.


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