This post has been updated and reposted...check it out here
I have a feeling this is about to become a soup blog for the next couple of months. Now that the raw weather is starting, I am all about warm comforting food. This season started with a classic- rich savory-sweet french onion soup, topped with toasted bread and melty cheese.
French onion soup was the first thing we made in my first cooking course in September. Making the recipe again, I found it to be an easy (though not necessarily quick) process with a lot of possibilities for improvisation. Unlike baking, which requires certain proportions of different ingredients to create chemical reactions during the baking process, cooking is really all about opening yourself up to add this and that, and make something taste just the way you want it to. I didn't really use a written recipe while making this soup, nor did we in the class, though the instructor sent us home with a write up of the ingredients we used, and I expanded off that list here.
The main concept is simple: onions cooked slowly until sweet, beef and/or chicken broth, wine and herbs, topped with melted cheese and hearty bread.
The ingredients I used are listed below. If you are missing one of these ingredients it hardly matters, use what you do have, and taste as you cook. Add things you think will taste good. You can hardly go wrong with caramelized onions, rich stock, and a bit of wine.
These proportions made 6 servings as a starter -about 4 servings if the soup is served as a main course, and the total process took about 2 hours.
3 large onions - chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic- minced
1 Tbs olive oil
4 cups (1 carton) beef broth
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh chopped thyme
1 cup white wine and 1/4 cup red (I used what was available to me- finishing off 2 opened bottles- either will do, though the red sure adds a nice deep color.)
1 tsp dried rosemary
salt & pepper to taste
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
I also used a tsp of concentrated chicken stock- "better than bouillon" for extra flavor - I know it sounds odd, especially since the only liquid in this recipe is beef stock or wine, but this added a lot of depth. If I had had a homemade stock instead of the carton of beef stock from the grocery store this likely would not have been necessary.
And to top it off:
4 small rolls I had in the freezer (use your choice of bread- whatever you have around, though french bread is of course a classic. Bread that is dryer and a few days old is great for this)
2 tsp fresh chopped thyme
Start by chopping the onions, heat the olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot then add in the onions and allow to cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep any bits from sticking and burning on the bottom. The heat should be set pretty low, you do not want the onions to get dark or burnt, but instead just translucent and sweet and golden. Add the minced garlic in the last few minutes of carmelization.
At this point add in the beef stock and 1 cup of wine. Allow to simmer and reduce for half an hour, then add in the remaining ingredients to your taste- don't forget to taste it as you add things, especially salt, as some of the other ingredients (beef stock, worcestershire sauce, etc) may likely already have a fair amount of sodium.
When the soup is flavored to your liking, allow it to continue to simmer while you prepare the bread and cheese topping. This can be done in 2 ways- traditionally the bread is added on top of the soup, and the cheese on top of that in an oven proof bowl, and then put in the hot oven until the cheese is melted and golden brown. If you do not have an oven proof dish to use, or do not want the bottom of the bread as soggy, you can use the second method:
First cut up your bread into 1 inch chunks. Lay flat on a baking sheet or in the toaster oven and toast until they start to get some color on the edges. Next, making sure that the bread pieces are spaced closely together, sprinkle the mixture of the 2 types of cheese and fresh thyme on top liberally, then put that in the toaster oven or broiler until brown and bubbly. Allow to cool a bit so you can handle it, and then place the cheese-y bread pieces on top of your soup. If the soup itself is quite hot it will remelt the cheese and make a similar effect to cooking the whole thing in the oven, minus the soggy bottomed bread.
I love the cheesy croutons so much that the dish I prepared for myself (pictured above) had more croutons than soup!