Onion Soup au Gratin

onion soup au gratin

~ More Bowl-Food: French Onion Soup au Gratin ~

When I think  of winter I think of skiing and fireside dinners at the end of an active day spent outdoors. I think of warm, rich, soul-satisfying meals that are deeply flavorful and nourishing. I think of French Onion Soup.

The key to a good onion soup is time and patience. I’ve written about this before, and there is no denying that the best way to attain a full flavored onion soup – the one with a mahogany burnished broth, butter rich and slick with caramelized onions – is to cook the onions for a long long time. As they cook, they will sweat, break down, release their juices, caramelize and melt into a sweet slump of slurp worthy soup. I’ve posted a recipe which requires 3 hours of slow cooking in the oven, and by all means if you have the time to do this I encourage you to do so. But if you are spending the day skiing the slopes of your favorite mountain (lucky you) or simply working during the week, 3 hours of cooking is simply not possible without a crock pot.

So here is a recipe that still respects the time involved to extract the sweet goodness of onions, yet may be prepared in little over one hour. This gives you plenty of time to warm up from the cold, stoke the fire, pour some wine and relax by the fireplace before your soup is ready.

Onion Soup au Gratin

This soup is very rich, even without the gratineed bread. For a simple rustic meal serve with a big green salad and a platter of salami and cured meats.

Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
5 large yellow onions, about 3 pounds, thinly sliced
3 leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced
Salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 cups organic beef stock
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup Calvados brandy
Freshly ground black pepper

6 slices peasant style or Levain bread, 3/4-inch thick
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere and/or Emmental cheese

Melt the butter with the oil in a large Dutch-oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, leeks and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook until the onions begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Remove lid and continue to cook, uncovered, stirring from time to time until onions are dark golden brown, about 45 minutes. (As a brown crust forms on the bottom of the pot, be sure to stir it up into the onions). When the onions are golden, sprinkle with flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add wine and bring to a boil. Add 4 cups stock, Calvados, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Stir to blend, and add additional stock to desired consistency. Simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

While the soup is cooking, prepare the bread. Heat oven to 350 F. Place bread on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the oven off without removing the bread. Leave bread in until crisp, about 15 more minutes.

Heat oven broiler. Ladle soup into oven-proof bowls or crocks. Cover the soup with bread slices. Sprinkle cheese over the bread. Broil until bread is golden and cheese is bubbly, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve hot.

 

Thanksgiving Side: Spinach Gratin with Cheesy Breadcrumbs

~ Spinach Gratin with Cheesy Breadcrumbs ~

You might also call this a “fill-in-the-blank gratin.” I had spinach in the fridge, but other sturdy greens such as kale or Swiss chard will work equally well in this recipe. The preparation is simple, consisting of sautéing the greens-of-your-choice, followed by a quick nap of cream. A crunchy topping of breadcrumbs and cheese finishes the gratins in the oven. And I dare say if there is someone in your family who is less inclined to favor these leafy superfoods, this gratin may be just the vehicle to get them munching.

Spinach Gratin

There is no thickener such as egg or flour in this recipe, so the results are akin to creamed spinach in a cup, with a cheesy breadcrumb topping. Because of this, I like to serve the gratin in individual ramekins. Makes enough for 4 individual gratins.

1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
12 ounces fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped if large
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 375 F. Mix breadcrumbs, cheese and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper together in a small bowl; set aside. Heat oil in a large pot or deep skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and red chili flakes. Sauté 1 minute. Add spinach, cover pot and cook over medium-low heat until leaves soften, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cream and salt. Simmer, uncovered, 1 minute. Divide spinach between 4 (3/4-cup) ramekins. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cheese. Bake in oven until tops are golden and gratins are bubbly, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve warm.

If you like this, you might enjoy these seasonal gratin recipes:
Potato Gratins from TasteFood
Broccoli Blue Cheese Gratin from Leite’s Culinaria
Roasted Yellow Beet and Ricotta Tian from TasteFood
Artichoke Hearst au Gratin from Kalyn’s Kitchen
Cauliflower au Gratin from TasteFood

Potato Gratins

Potato Gratins

Yes, that’s potato gratins in the plural – not singular. I made these last weekend. Not only are they very cute in their individual ramekins, they are also elegantly and cleverly portioned. This ensures that you will be less likely to find yourself gobbling up half a baking dish of gratinéed potatoes or wrestling your child for the last crunchy cheesy corner stuck to the rim. Just saying. It happens.

Potato Gratins

A mandoline works best for thinly slicing the potatoes. Keep the skins on for extra nutrients and texture to balance out all of the cheesy goodness. Makes 8.

Unsalted butter
2 cups full-fat sour cream
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds small white, Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold potatoes, washed, very thinly sliced – no more than 1/8 inch thick
8 ounces grated Gruyère cheese

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter 8 3/4-cup ramekins. Whisk sour cream, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper together in a bowl. Arrange 2 layers of potatoes overlapping in ramekins. Top with a heaping teaspoon of sour cream, spreading to cover the potatoes. Sprinkle with cheese. Repeat layering process, occasionally sprinkling with additional salt and pepper, until ramekins are full, gently pressing down on each layer. Finish with a layer of sour cream and grated cheeese. Arrange ramekins on a baking tray. Bake until potatoes are tender and top is brown and bubbling, about 1 hour. (If top browns before potatoes are fully cooked, lightly cover with foil to prevent burning.) Serve hot.

Tips and Treats for a Holiday Cheese Basket

Tips and Treats for a Holiday Cheese Basket



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I made this cheese basket for a ghoulish gathering of friends last weekend. Cheeseboards and baskets are fun to make and with a little thought and creativity can easily take center stage at a buffet table. I never tire of arranging and decorating them, using the season and holidays as inspiration. For this Halloween-inspired cheese basket I picked autumnal decorations with a creepy twist. I created a border of spiky, frizzy greens with dark, purplish leaves and black, woody garnishes. The cheese selection was equally ghoulish: ash-rubbed cheese, a moldy blue, stinky and runny cheese and orange pockmarked cheese. The crisps and crackers were dark, rough and seeded, weaving through the cheese like wood in the forest.

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All of the garnishes and decorations are edible and include:
Mustard greens, chicory, purple kale, frisée, miniature red pears, black radishes, burdock root, gourds and baby pumpkins, black olives, pumpkins seeds, dried currants and cranberries.

Crisps and snacks were chosen for color, shape and texture:
Corn nuts, black sesame rice crackers, cranberry hazelnut crisps,  crisp flatbread, and chunks of dense fig and almond cake.

Black slate created the background and lined the basket interior, provided a sturdy surface to cut the cheese while various wooden and black vessels contained wayward runny cheese and little nibbles.

Not only did the cheeseboard look good, it featured a thoughtful selection of cheese that ranged from soft and mild to strong and aged. When you gather a selection, try to balance it in strength, texture, flavor. As a starting point I often include a blue cheese, a creamy white-molded cheese such as camembert, a goat cheese and a hard alpine cow or sheep milk cheese.

Cheese pictured in this basket includes (clockwise from top center):

1.  Cowgirl Creamery Sir Francis Drake washed rind cheese with currants
2.  Sharp white Cheddar with a Purple Rind – selected for color
3.  Aged Gouda Saenkanter – an orange, sharp, nutty Dutch cows milk cheese
4.  Adante Dairy “Nocturne” cows milk cheese with gray mold and ash
5.  Seal Bay Triple Cream – mild, oozing and runny
6.  Gorgonzola Mountain – crumbly and streaked with blue
7.  Petit Brebiousse – a French ewe’s milk cheese with an orange rind

So have fun – enjoy all of the fabulous cheese and remember to save some for the guests. Bon appétit!

Cauliflower au Gratin

Cauliflower au Gratin

Who can’t resist a Cauliflower Gratin? Perfect as a side dish or vegetarian course, these golden gratins are bubbling with cheesy goodness. I found yellow cauliflower at the market and mixed it with white cauliflower in this recipe. Don’t just experiment with color. Get creative with other veggies, such as  broccoli florets, chunks of celeriac or diced rutabaga for variety and flavor. So long as there’s lots of gratinéed cheese and bechamel, this gratin is a winner.

Cauliflower Gratin
Serves 4

1 large head of cauliflower, broken into florets
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, finely grated
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs, lightly toasted

Preheat oven to 375 F. (190 C.)  Butter a gratin dish or 4 individual ramekins.
Steam cauliflower until crisp tender. Transfer to a large bowl. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour, and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add milk in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Cook, stirring, until bechamel thickens. Whisk in salt, mustard, pepper and nutmeg. Add half of the Gruyere cheese, whisking until smooth. Pour the bechamel over the cauliflower. Toss to thoroughly coat. Pour into the gratin dish. Combine remaining Gruyere cheese, Parmesan and panko in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the top of the gratin. Bake until golden on top and bubbling, about 30 minutes.

Porcini Cheese Fondue

It perplexes me when the subject of cheese fondue comes up, and it’s often accompanied by a snide reference to the seventies. I find it sad that this quintessential alpine dish is relegated to a by-gone era evoking images of shag rugs, unfortunate hair and textured bell-bottoms. Certainly this was not intended when the rural inhabitants of Swiss and French mountainous villages devised a warming winter dish incorporating their local cheese and winter staples.

I may be biased. I was never a fan of the seventies, even when I lived in them. Conversely, I am a huge fan of Switzerland. After all, I lived there for 10 years following my stint at cooking school in Paris. My husband and I were married in Switzerland, and our children were born there. As a result, Switzerland holds a special place in our hearts and will always be considered home to our family.

The best way to a country’s soul is to experience its cuisine. As an expat in Geneva it was a delicious pleasure to embrace Swiss specialties, namely chocolate and cheese. We’ll leave the chocolate for another post. As for the cheese, we enjoyed it in all of its forms, and the Swiss tradition of melting it in deep pots with wine and spirits quickly became a favorite. When we eventually moved from Geneva to London, and then on to Copenhagen, I became more reliant on making my own version of fondue for wintry family dinners to satisfy our wistful cravings.

This recipe has been tweaked and fine-tuned over the years, influenced by taste and available ingredients. In addition to serving it with the usual bread, I like to pass around bowls of parboiled baby potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli florets for dipping.

Porcini Cheese Fondue

The extra ingredient in this cheese fondue is porcini mushrooms, which I highly recommend adding. They will simmer in the cheese imparting a rich umami flavor to the fondue. If you prefer a simple cheese fondue, omit the porcini. Serves 4.

3 tablespoons Calvados or Poire William brandy
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for serving
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 pound high quality alpine cheese such as Gruyère, Emmental, Comté. (I use 2/3 Gruyere and 1/3 Emmental), grated
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in hot water until reconstituted, drained, squeezed dry and coarsely chopped
1 loaf peasant bread, cut in 3/4 inch cubes

Note: Have all of your ingredients ready before you begin. Once you start, the fondue will come together quickly, and during this time it must be constantly stirred. The fondue must not come to a boil during this time.

Combine Calvados, cornstarch, salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and nutmeg in a small bowl, stirring to dissolve the cornstarch. Set aside.
Add wine and garlic to a large heavy saucepan or fondue pot. Heat over medium heat until tiny bubbles form, giving the wine a fizzy appearance without bringing to a boil. Add cheese one handful at a time, stirring constantly until each handful is melted before adding the next – do not let the fondue boil.
Once cheese is added, continue stirring one minute – do not let the fondue boil.
Stir in cornstarch. Continue stirring until mixture thickens to fondue consistency. (I find that some cornstarch brands thicken more easily than others. If your fondue remains thin, add 1 more tablespoon cornstarch diluted with 2 tablespoons white wine.) If using porcini, stir the mushrooms into the cheese at this point. Remove from heat. Pour cheese into a warm fondue pot if necessary. Serve immediately.

Serve with extra ground pepper, bread and parboiled vegetables such as small potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli florets.

Root Vegetable Gratin

Root Vegetable Gratin

If you are searching for holiday side dishes, this root veggie gratin is a fresh alternative to a traditional potato gratin. Layers of rutabaga and sweet potato alternate with red potatoes in this colorfully striated dish flecked with sage.  The root vegetables lend an extra dimension to this rustic winter gratin with their sweet earthy flavor, while adding a more nutritious alternative to the simple potato.

Root Vegetable Gratin
Serves 6-8

16 ounces sour cream
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 medium red potatoes
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled
1 large rutabaga, peeled
6 ounces Gruyère cheese, finely grated

Preheat oven to 375 F. (190 C.) Butter a gratin dish.
Combine sour cream, garlic, sage, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a bowl and mix well. Thinly slice potatoes and rutabaga, preferably with a mandoline. Arrange 2 layers of red potatoes, overlapping, in bottom of gratin dish. Spread a thin layer of the sour cream over the potatoes. Sprinkle with a little Gruyere cheese. Cover with a double layer of sweet potatoes. Spread with a thin layer of sour cream and a sprinkling of Gruyere. Repeat with a layer of rutabaga. Repeat process until all of the vegetables have been incorporated. (There should be about 6 layers in all.) Thoroughly top gratin with remaining sour cream. Sprinkle a liberal amount of Gruyère over sour cream. Bake in oven until vegetables are tender and top of gratin is brown and bubbling, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. (Loosely cover gratin with buttered foil if browning too fast.) Serve garnished with fresh sage leaves.