Sunday, December 6, 2015

Fresh Bread and French Onion Soup

It's been a busy fall, but with the term winding down, I finally turned my attention to my neglected bread starter and started coaxing it back to life with daily feedings. In a few days, it was bubbling  away happily and over the weekend it raised a fine loaf of rye and red fife flour. 

With the baking bread aromas filling the kitchen, and a steady drizzle outside, I decided to make some French onion soup for dinner. I caramelized a big pot of onions (saving some for a future mujaddara), and thawed a quart of chicken stock. The recipe I followed from the kitchn, based on Julia Child, called for an hour of cooking the broth with the onions, and another 20 minutes in the oven, but I admit to skimping on both, because we were all too hungry to wait. The resulting soup was deliciously decadent for a rainy day.

French Onion Soup
Makes 4 one-cup servings

3 large yellow onions (~1 pound)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sugar
4 cups beef, chicken, or vegetable broth
1/2 cup white wine or white vermouth
4 bread slices, toasted
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese

1. Peel and cut each onion into half moons: Slice each half of the onion into thin, evenly-sized half moons and cut the half moon slices in half. You will have at least 3 cups of chopped onions. But don't worry too much about quantities with this recipe; if you have an extra onion to use up, throw it in!

2. In a large pot, melt the butter with the oil over medium-low heat. After the butter foams up and then settles down, add the onions and stir to coat with the butter. Cover the pan and cook for 15 minutes on low heat. 

3. Remove the lid. The onions should have wilted down somewhat. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, a generous amount of black pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar (this helps the onions caramelize). Turn the heat up to medium and cook, uncovered and stirring every few minutes, until the onions are deeply browned. This will take 40 minutes to 1 hour. Turn down the heat if the onions scorch or stick to the pan; the browning doesn't come through burning, but through slow, even caramelization.

4. Heat the broth: As the onions approach a deep walnut color, heat the broth in a separate pot. Add the wine and allow to cook down. Then add the hot broth to the caramelized onions and bring to a boil. Cook gently over low heat for about 1 hour (I only did this for 20 minutes). Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if needed. 

5. Heat the oven to 350°F. Divide the soup between small but deep oven-safe bowls. Top each with a slice (or two) of toasted bread and sprinkle grated cheese in a thick layer over the bread and up to the edge of the bowl. Place the bowls on a baking sheet or in a casserole dish. Bake for about 20 minutes until the cheese is thoroughly melted (I did this for 5 minutes).

6. Broil until the cheese is browned: Turn the oven from bake to broil and broil the soup for 1 to 3 minutes or until the cheese is browned and bubbling. Remove carefully from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving on heatproof dishes or trivets.  

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