Tag Archives: Onion Soup

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.

If you like this you might enjoy these recipes from TasteFood:
Pate de Campagne with Cranberries and Pistachios
Caramelized Onion Tart
Anelletti Pasta with Bacon, Peas and Sweet Potato

Feeding the Soul: French Onion Soup au Gratin

Patience pays.  The essence of an onion soup is, well, the onions.  When onions are slow-cooked, they break down, releasing their sugars and juices and then they caramelize.  What begins as a crisp white onion evolves into a slippery, squishy, mahogany-colored mound of onion – and this is a very good thing.  Combined with stock, herbs, wine and a splash of cognac, the amorphous mound of slow-cooked onions becomes the base and richness for a sweet, deep, flavorful soup.  Topped with a thick slice of grilled pain paysan which in turn is topped with melted, bubbling alpine cheese, you have a sublime, satisfying and substantial winter soup.

So, here is where patience pays: It is essential that the onions cook for a long time.  There are recipes for onion soup where the onions are fried on the cooktop and browned in less than one hour.  While they may look like they are close to the desired outcome in flavor, they are not.  The onions must sweat, break down, release their juices.  The juices, in turn, must slowly evaporate, allowing the onions to caramelize.  If you skip this process, you will miss in the soup an extra depth of flavor and body that will leave you struggling to improvise as you desperately rummage through your spice cabinet for that extra something that is missing.

Do not be deterred by the time required; all you need is some advance planning and an oven.  While the stovetop works, it does require constant checking and care which is labor intensive for the busy cook.  With the oven, the onions can cook through the afternoon, and an hour before dinner the soup is ready to finish.  Simplicity, economy of ingredients, time and care – this is the essence of slow cooking, resulting in a rustic, comforting meal that feeds the soul and palate.

French Onion Soup au Gratin

Serves 4-5

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 large yellow onions, about 3 pounds, halved and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dry white wine, divided
1/2 cup sherry or Calvados brandy
5 cups beef stock or a combination of beef and chicken stock
4 thyme sprigs, tied with kitchen string
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

12-15 baguette slices, cut 3/4 inch thick
1 cup grated alpine cheese such as Grùyere, Comté or Emmenthaler

Preheat oven to 400 F. (200 C.) Melt butter over medium heat in a large Dutch oven or heavy oven-proof pot with lid.  Add onions and salt.  Cook, stirring, 5 minutes.  Cover pot and place in oven for one hour.

Remove pot, stir onions and any collected brown bits on sides and bottom of pot.  Cover, leaving slightly ajar and return pot to oven. Cook until onions are soft and golden brown, two hours, checking and stirring up browned bits after one hour.  (There will be a lot of liquid in the pot at this point.)

Remove pot from oven and remove lid.  Transfer to stovetop. Simmer over medium heat until liquid evaporates and onions turn brown, stirring and  scraping up any browned bits on bottom and sides of pot, about 20 minutes.  Continue cooking to allow a crust to form on the bottom of the pan without burning, about 5 minutes.  Add 1/4 cup white wine to deglaze pan and loosen crust.  Continue cooking until wine evaporates and another crust begins to form.  Deglaze a second time with remaining 1/4 cup wine.  The onions should be dark brown at this point. Add sherry, and cook stirring until sherry evaporates. Add stock, thyme and bay leaf.  Stir and scrape up any brown bits on bottom and sides of pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, 30 minutes.  Discard thyme and bay leaf.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Make the croutons:
While the soup simmers, lightly brush bread slices with olive oil.  Place on a baking sheet and bake in 400 F. (200 C.) oven until light golden and crisp, 5-8 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Finish the soup:
Divide soup evenly among 4 oven-proof bowls or crocks arranged on a baking sheet.  Gently lay croutons in one layer to cover most of the surface.  Sprinkle cheese evenly over crouton and soup.  Place baking sheet in oven under grill element.  Broil until cheese is bubbling and golden brown, 2-3 minutes.  Remove from oven and serve immediately.