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Archive for December, 2018

I know, soup again.

But it was dreary last Sunday night and when my sister came over to light Hanukkah candles, I gave her the option of a fresh batch of some sort of lentil/sweet potato concoction or onion soup that I’d made the prior week and frozen. She graciously chose onion, leaving me with more time on my hands but still a pile of sweet potatoes just begging to be used before I head out of town for the weekend yet again. (The tubers ended up in a slow cooker with a bunch of vegetables, pears, and lentils a few days ago.)

With no bowls able to withstand a little oven time, I improvised with a small gratin dish and made more than enough for the two of us to share, scooping hot soup and soaked bread and melty cheese into pretty but not oven-safe bowls, and peeling bits of charred Gruyère and Comte off the sides of the dish.

As for the recipe, my parameters were that it be vegetarian and use some port I found lying around. Because I wasn’t using chicken/beef/veal stock, I nearly tripled the amount of onions typically called for (which wilted down to almost nothing anyway) and added a little soy sauce at the end to give some umami oomph. As my sister said, the soup is still a tad on the sweet side – so you can add more soy sauce, and if I’d had some in my pantry I would have drizzled the soup with sherry vinegar to balance everything out.

And that’s it, folks. No fun story* or long discussion of etymology or romps down history lane or scientific explanation. Just soup. A plain old classic soup. And sometimes, on a cold drizzly Hanukkah evening, that’s all you need.

(*Well, the story – if you can call it one – is that a friend asked on FB about making onion soup in a crockpot which got the soup lodged in my brain.)

French onion soup (Soupe à l’oignon gratinée)

Adapted from the Washington Post, in consultation with Gourmet (RIP) and The Guardian. I more than doubled the amount of onions and amped up the flavor with onion powder (thank you, Leah Koenig) and added soy sauce for umami. Other umami options that I’ve seen include worchestire sauce, nam pla/fish sauce, miso (stir in at the end, soup can’t be boiling), nutritional yeast – a little bit goes a long way and while these may seem strange to add to a soup like this, they won’t add a fishy or miso-y flavor. If  you’re curious about those pretty thyme leaves – rather than buying a sad looking container of fresh-ish thyme, I picked up a thyme plant that was less expensive and still graces my windowsill. If you don’t have any sort of bowl or dish to put in the oven, you can melt the cheese on your bread and then float the cheese toast on top of the hot soup in each bowl.

Makes 10 cups (6-8 servings)

– 1/4 C olive oil (or 2 T olive oil and 2 T butter)
– 5 lbs (8 large) assorted onions, sliced into half-moons – I used a mix of yellow, red, and Vidalia
– 1 t fresh thyme leaves, plus extra for garnish
– 4 large dried bay leaves
– 1 T kosher salt
– freshly ground black pepper
– 1/3 C port
– 1 t onion powder
– 3 T flour
– 8 C vegetable broth
– 2-3 T soy sauce
– 1/2 loaf sourdough boule or baguette, sliced, stale or toasted, and broken into medium-sized pieces
– 5 oz Gruyère cheese, grated (2 C)
– 5 oz Comte cheese, grated (2 C)

Caramelize. Heat the oil (or oil and butter mix) in large, heavy bottomed pot (I used an 7.25-quart dutch oven) over a low flame. Mix in the onions, thyme, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Spread the mixture evenly in the pan, and let sit for 10 minutes without stirring. Keep cooking for a total of 35-40 minutes, stirring periodically (every 5 minutes or so, more frequently towards the end), until the onions have turned a dark golden brown and collapsed into a heap, reduced by about a quarter. If at any time they start to burn, turn the heat down.

Deglaze. Pour in the port and scrape up all the good bits from the bottom and sides of the pot.

Make roux. Add the onion powder and flour and mix until well incorporated, still over low heat. Cook for 3-4 minutes so the flour loses its raw taste. Pour in about a half cup of broth (just eye it), and mix well until an onion-y paste forms. Pour in another cup and mix well to make sure there are no lumps. Stir in the remaining broth.

Boil. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce the heat to medium and let the soup cook, covered, for 20 minutes, adjusting the heat to keep it at a very slow boil, adding a little water if it gets too thick and uncover it it’s too liquid-y.

Toast. While the soup is gently boiling, heat your oven to 375°F. If your bread isn’t already stale or toasted, stick it right on the racks while the oven is heating up to let it dry out – 5-7 minutes.

Serve. Divide your soup into oven-safe crocks (or any sort of deep dish), filled about 3/4 of the way up, top with a few pieces of bread, sprinkle with cheese, and slide into the oven on a parchment- or foil-lined baking sheet. Cook for 4-5 minutes until the cheese has melted and is bubbling and browning on the top. If you don’t have crocks, use a small au gratin/casserole dish instead.

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