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Monday, February 15, 2010

French Onion Soup

Back in high school, my friend Vickie and I went to Hyannis, MA with the Key Club one weekend and somehow got away from our group for a rare, stolen moment as we ducked into a beautiful French restaurant poised on the water. I don't know what we were thinking but once we were seated and looked at the menu, we realized we couldn't afford a thing. We hardly had any money on us and it would be years before either of us had a credit card--but instead of just running out of the joint, simply embarrassed, we ordered simply: they served me a plate of Escargots Bourguignonne, Vickie ordered a bowl of French Onion Soup and we ended up cautiously giggling while sharing both of the wonderful dishes.

I suppose the irony lay in wait until I made this truly incroyable Soupe a la'Oignon. Baby and I used cognac instead of sherry as that's what we had in the house and with a lick of inventiveness served the soup at our party in a single, large tureen with individual cheesy toasts (topped with gruyere and parmigiano-reggiano) on the side for dipping into the excellent, fragrant broth.

And, knowing what was set before us ahead of time, we didn't have to worry about skipping out on the bill!

Soupe à l'Oignon (French Onion Soup)
Adapted from Saveur magazine
"Braised onions, bread, and melted cheese are the main components of this timeless dish, which epitomizes the robust cuisine of Parisian brasseries. To make it, you'll need six sturdy ceramic bowls that may be safely placed under the broiler. This recipe is based on one in Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells (Workman, 1989)."

1 cup white wine
1⁄2 cup plus 3 tbsp. sherry
10 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. sugar
3 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
6 sprigs thyme
2 fresh bay leaves
2 qts. Beef Stock
12 1⁄2"-thick slices baguette
2 cloves garlic, smashed
6 cups grated gruyère cheese
2 cups finely grated parmigiano-reggiano
1. Heat oven to 425°. Combine wine, 1⁄2 cup of the sherry, 8 tbsp. of the butter, sugar, onions, and salt and pepper in a 9" × 13" casserole dish and braise, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the onions just begin to brown, 40–45 minutes. Remove casserole from oven, cover with foil, and continue braising in oven, stirring occasionally, until caramelized, about 1 hour more. Keep the onions warm.
2. Meanwhile, tie parsley, thyme, and bay leaves together with kitchen twine to make a bouquet garni. Put bouquet garni and stock into a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Remove and discard bouquet garni. Stir in remaining sherry and cook for 5 minutes more.
3. While the broth simmers, spread the baguette slices with the remaining butter. Toast in a skillet over medium heat, turning once, until golden, 5–7 minutes. Rub the slices generously with garlic and set aside. Discard any remaining garlic.
4. Heat broiler with rack 6" from element. Arrange 6 heatproof bowls on a foil-lined sheet tray, divide onions and broth between bowls, and stir together. Place 2 baguette slices in each bowl; top each with about 1 cup gruyère and about 1⁄3 cup parmigiano. Broil until cheeses are browned and bubbly, 3–5 minutes. Serve immediately.

This article was first published in Saveur in Issue #107

Photo: Andre Baranowski

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