French Friday: Onion Soup Gratinée
There was once a restaurant in our neighborhood where I loved to go on snowy days. Inside, it was what I imagine a Swiss ski lodge is like — all dark wood, tall paned windows, and a roaring fire. I would sit on the wooden bench, wrapped in a scarf, and order a bowl of their French onion soup. At brunch, a basket of sweet, yeasty breads and orange-scented butter would come out first. And then the soup would arrive, crusty with just enough melted cheese to make a point (but not create a stomachache) and I would break the surface and dip down into a rich brown broth. It was, until the restaurant closed a few years ago, one of my favorite weekend lunches.
I don’t think I’ve ever met a friend or foe who didn’t care for French onion soup. It’s one of those foods that’s pretty delicious even when it’s not it’s best (though I’ve never been one to grumble over too much cheese), and it’s blissfully simple to make. I confess I’ve gone into a bit of a panic in the last couple weeks over all the wintery foods I still want to make before the first asparagus crops up. There is the truffle mac and cheese beckoning and the fondue (and do I see a fromagey theme here?), but what I would say to you is: this should make your winter short list. If you’ve never made French onion soup it’s absolutely worth a whirl, and such a comfort on a snowy night when you are hunkered down on the couch this weekend watching Doctor Zhivago.
Onion Soup Gratinée
adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Serves 6 to 8
Rather than broiling the entire soup pot covered with croutons and cheese as in Julia’s original recipe, I took the easier route and broiled the cheesy rounds of bread and then floated them atop the soup. This is especially helpful if you, like me, have a drawer-sized broiler that won’t exactly accommodate a soup pot.
1 1/2 pounds (about 5 cups) thinly sliced yellow onions
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons flour
2 quarts boiling beef stock or broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons cognac
2 ounces Gruyère cut into very thin slivers
1 tablespoon grated raw onion
12-16 toasted baguette rounds
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyère
Cook the onions slowly with the butter and oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan for 15 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat to moderate, and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep, golden brown.
Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes. Off the heat, blend in the boiling liquid. Add the wine, and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 minutes more, skimming occasionally. Cover bread rounds with shredded cheese and broil until bubbly and melted. Stir cognac, slivered cheese, and raw onion into soup; ladle into bowls, and float a cheesy crouton or two on top.