Oooo La La...French Onion Soup Please!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Quite possibly the best soup ever invented. I still marvel at how much depth in flavor an onion can create. Raw, they can be piquant and harsh (and if you're me, you love that). But when sauteed slowly in a little butter, they become a soft, caramel-colored goodness that is sweet, rich, and endless in flavor. Add melted cheese on top of that and we're in business.

In winter when most fruits and vegetables were still dormant and scarce, onions proved to be a wonderful go-to ingredient to flavor stews, roasts, and virtually any dish. But perhaps it shines most in this classic French soup.

My recipe here is for two people. My husband Andrew and I love it on a cold winter's night with a glass of red, watching a movie or talking in front of a roaring fire when we're having an in-home date night. You can easily expand the recipe. It will warm your home and your heart. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Date Night French Onion Soup serves 2

2 Tbsp good butter (recommend Land O' Lakes)
1 very large brown onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 very large yellow onion (can use Vidallia or Maui), sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 cloves of garlic, minced
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1.5 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 small bay leaf (or a large one torn in half)
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/4 cup brandy or cognac
4 cups good beef broth (recommend Swanson's)
2 day-old slices French baguette, cut 1 inch thick
gruyere cheese (shreddd or sliced)

Special Equipment: oven-proof soup bowls or large ramekins

Melt the butter in a pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and season with salt and pepper to taste. The salt is going to help draw out the juices from the onions so they caramelize well. Cook onions, stirring occasionally, until very soft and caramelized, about 20 minutes. You want to make sure to scrape the bottom of the pot occasionally with your wooden spoon to release the "brown bits" before they burn. By doing this, you'll also help the onions achieve that overall caramel brown color which is the base of flavor for the entire soup.

While the onions cook, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Once the onions are nice and caramelized, add the garlic and cook another minute or so until garlic is fragrant. Add the flour all at once and stir in well, making sure all the onions and garlic get coated with it. The flour is going to help thicken the soup once the liquids are added. Stirring constantly, cook for 2 minutes in order to draw out the raw flour flavor. If you don't stir it constantly, the flour may burn or clump and then it won't dissolve properly. Add the brandy very carefully to the pot and you'll see the mixture will get thickened almost instantly. Incorporate the brandy into the onion mixture and use it to help loosen the brown bits on the bottom and sides of the pot.

Toss in the bay leaf and thyme sprigs (you can add them whole and remove them later or take the leaves off of the stems if you like now). Then slowly add the beef broth, stopping a couple of times to stir in the onion mixture. You'll find the soup will thicken then release as you add the broth at first.

Increase the heat to high and bring the soup to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat back down so that the soup is allowed to simmer for 20 minutes.

To prepare the servings, ladle equal amount of soup into two oven-safe soup bowls or large ramekins. No need to butter them first. Top each bowl with a slice of French baguette, and using a spoon or utensil, gently push the slice into the soup so it can absorb the liquid. Top the slice with a generous portion of gruyere cheese. If using sliced cheese, don't worry if the cheese overlaps onto the lips of the bowl.

Place bowls on a baking sheet (in case the cheese bubbles over you want it to catch on the baking sheet and not on the bottom of your oven!) and bake in oven until the cheese melts and is bubbly, 10-15 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.

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