Sunday, January 10, 2010

Oooo La La

It's a Sunday in early January, and despite a cloudless sky, the temperature is struggling to get out of the teens. That's when I'm glad I'm one of those people who's lucky enough to have a couple of quarts of homemade beef stock sitting in my freezer. Which is key, because I'm about to engage in one of the most pleasant and sastisfying ways to spend a late Sunday morning -- standing by the stove, slowly stirring a big cast-iron pan full of simmering onions, while reading a particularly interesting edition of The New York Times Book Review. (Am I one of the few women over 30 who still hasn't read Eat, Pray, Love?)

The onions, which I am seeking to turn a rich caramel color without burning them, will be combined with the aforementioned homemade beef stock to make that bistro classic, French onion soup.

Ironically, the inspiration for this soup was neither the big, beautiful onions that came with last week's CSA, nor the beef stock that my sister Robin had patiently made last fall using bones from the black angus cattle that the Wee Bit Farms people are raising in Maine. Instead, it was the last third of an old loaf of Me and Ollie's wonderful asiago cheese bread. "This would be perfect for French onion soup," I had remarked to my sister and brother-in-law earlier in the weekend. Now, here we were, making it happen.
 I like the recipe from Gordon Hammersley's Bistro Cooking at Home
because it's simple and straightforward -- and because he suggests supplementing the stock with a little dry sherry or port, which adds an extra depth of flavor and helps deglaze the pan. I also like his suggestion to add some minced garlic and olive oil to the toasted bread slices that top the soup before adding the cheese and broiling.

Hammersley, who owns Hammersey's Bistro, one of my favorite Boston restaurants, also says you can make the soup with chicken stock. As you only need 5 cups of stock for this recipe, you could actually take some prepared chicken stock -- the best you can find, preferrably low sodium -- and simmer it for 45 minutes or so with a bay leaf, carrot, onion, and celery -- maybe even a chicken wings or thigh for added flavor and proceed from there.

Whatever stock you use, the key lies in browning the onions until they turn dark and sweet, then broiling the bread and cheese topping till it's bubbly and brown. What else can I say other than c'est magnifique!

Onion Soup Au Gratin
Bistro Cooking at Home
Gordon Hammersley with Joanne McAllister Smart

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 medium onions, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
(I like to add 1 tablespoon or so of flour to the onions to thicken the broth a bit.)
1/2 cup dry sherry or port
5 cups chicken broth or beef stock
1 baquette
2 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil
6 ounces Gruyère cheese, shredded

1. Melt the butter in a wide soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, season them with a little salt and pepper, and cook them over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions slowly brown. This will take 30 to 45 minutes; the longer the onions cook and the lower the heat, the darker and sweeter they become. (Hammersley suggests if you want to hurry things along, you can sprinkle the onions with about 1/2 teaspoon of sugar as they cook. I say, just bring along something to read.) (As the onions darken, I like to add a little flour -- maybe up to a tablespoon, just the thicken the broth.)

2. When the onions have browned to your liking, add the sherry or port, and the chicken broth or beef stock and 3 cups of water to the pot. (Hammersley suggests adding sherry to the chicken broth and port to the beef, but I added sherry to the beef, as that's what I had.)

3. Stir, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, Bring soup to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook for about a half hour to meld the flavors. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, if needed.

4. When ready to serve, heat the broiler. Cut the baguette into slices about 1/8 inch thick. You want enough slices to cover the soup bowls. Put the slices on a baking sheet and toast them lightly under the broiler. Mix the garlic with the olive oil and spread in a thin layer over each toasted bread slice.

5. Set soup bowls (see Note) on the baking sheet. (Careful it may be hot!) Ladle the soup into the bowls. Put a slice or two of the baguette on top of the soup. You want to cover the surface almost entirely without any overlap -- cut the slices to fit if need be. Sprinkle the toast with a handful (about 1 ounce) of Gruyère cheese each. Carefully slide the baking sheet (it will be heavy) into the oven and melt the cheese under the broiler until it just starts to brown in spots, about 2 minutes. Serving immediately, remembering that the bowls are extremely hot.

(NOTE: Hammersley uses crocks specifically made for onion soup. Any relatively wide-mouthed, low-sided soup bowl will work fine, as long as it's overproof. And be sure to put the hot bowls on a plate so as not to ruin your table.)

No comments:

Post a Comment