IF ANY SOUP can transport me to a dimly-lit cafe in Paris (I’m partial to this one) it is French Onion Soup. This is a fragrant — and admittedly boozy — brew of thinly-sliced, perfectly-caramelized onions suspended in a vermouth-enhanced beef stock. Of course the cheese-embellished croutons which float atop the soup are swoon-worthy, too. How I make this sensual Soupe à l’oignon gratinée:
Onion Soup Gratinee
Ingredients for 8-10 servings
For the soup:
2 1/2 lbs yellow onions (about 3 large), which will measure 8 cups when thinly sliced
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp good quality olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
3 Tbsp flour
2 1/2 quarts beef stock (preferably homemade, but a good, low-sodium stock will do)
3/4 cup dry vermouth
Cognac (optional) – about a Tbsp per serving
For the gratinee:
12- to 16 rounds of hard-toasted French bread (such as the kind we made last week)
2 oz (or so) thin slices of Swiss cheese, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
Special Equipment – a heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven which will hold at least 4 quarts; a 3-quart pot for boiling the beef stock; a food processor for slicing the onions is very helpful; a baking sheet lined with foil for toasting the croutons
Slicing the onions — You can slice the onions very thinly by hand, or take the easy road, as I did, and slice them in a food processor outfitted with a slicing blade. The thinner the onions, the better the soup will be.
1. Sauteeing the onions — Add butter and olive oil to saucepot. Heat over a low flame until the butter melts (don’t let it brown). Then add the onions, and toss them with a wooden spoon once or twice to coat them. Cover the pot, and let the onions steam, unattended, for 15 minutes.
2. Caramelizing the onions — Raise the heat to medium, add the salt and sugar (sugar helps the caramelizing process), and then cook the onions, uncovered, stirring frequently, until they turn a rich, walnut-brown. This unfortunately will take about 40 minutes. Onions like to lounge and luxuriate before they change color.
4. Adding flour to the onions — Pour the flour onto the onions, and blend it in well. Then stir stir the mixture for 2 minutes.
5. Adding the stock — Off heat, gradually add the simmering stock to the onions, while stirring slowly but constantly. A thin sauce will form and hold the onions in suspension. Add the vermouth now, too. And if you want to add more than a 1/2 cup…be my guest. What happens at A Garden for the House stays at A Garden for the House.
Advance preparation — At this time you can cover the soup and set it aside (or even refrigerate it) until ready to serve.
6. The toasted rounds — Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Slice a firm-bodied, crusty baguette into 1/2- to 3/4- inch rounds, and set them on the foil-lined baking sheet. Set the sheet on the middle rack of the preheated oven, and let them heat for 30 minutes, or until they have completely dried out and the tops have turned golden brown.
7. Making the gratinee – Bring the soup back to the boil. Meanwhile, lay the thin slices of cheese on the bottom of your oven-proof soup tureen, casserole, or individual oven-proof soup bowls. (I used a 1 1/2-quart earthen-ware casserole, which held enough soup for 3 generous servings. The remaining soup was returned to the refrigerator, for enjoying on another day.)
8. Floating the croutons — Ladle the soup into the tureen, or whatever you are using, and then float the croutons on top. Plan 2 croutons for each serving.
9. Baking the Soup – Top the croutons with the shredded cheese, and then immediately set the pot on the lower middle rack of the still-heated 325-degree oven. Let simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese melts.
Serving – Ladle the brew into soup plates, and add a splash (about a tablespoon) of cognac to each. Serve at once, perhaps with a salad, but definitely with goblets of ice-cold Sauvignon blanc.
Yep, I’d say that onion soup gratineed with cheese is the fastest way to get to Paris. I beg you to make this ambrosia some day.
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