Monday, December 27, 2010

Meatless Monday: Post-Christmas Food

Most things I make in a large pot have copious amounts of alcohol in them. This soup is, for good or ill, appropriate for this time of year for just such a reason; the sub-par bottle of wine. (If you entertain enough around the holidays, you’ll get at least one.) Don’t regret! Light a fire in the fireplace, scavenge your refrigerator’s scraps and make french onion soup. 

Alternately, you can make this recipe by purposely buying the driest horrible wine you can find, but this is not a place for the tasty stuff. The last time I made this with good wine I drank it as I cooked and the final version also included dry mustard, hot sauce, sugar, cinnamon, a few mysterious dry white beans, worcestershire and two bottles of wine (minus what I’d consumed). I remember it being delicious, but I’m not entirely sure about this. 

Good broth, unless you have access to some delectable homemade stuff, is absolutely brand-specific. I’ve included recommendations here. Red onions make the end product look more like the classic, but if you only have white or yellow onions then have at; it’ll taste about the same. Cloves are lovely here, but flick the little flower heads off; they’ll end up crushed at the bottom of the pot and be overpowering. If your pantry doesn’t include spare carrot and celery, stick the cloves in a tea strainer so they’ll be easier to fish out. Likewise, if you have kitchen twine, tie up your herbs and stock veg to make them easier to discard later. If you don’t, allow yourself several minutes at the end to catch them as they surface. 
  • 2 tbsp to ½ stick of butter (use the larger amount for vegetarian broth version)
  • 1 1/2 lbs red onions, sliced into quarters and then thinly against the grain
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 8 cups rich vegetable broth (boxed – Swanson Vegetarian Vegetable, dry - Rapunzel Herb Bouillon, OR
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (boxed – Swanson Organics, Better than Bouillon Chicken Base), AND
  • 4 cups low-sodium beef broth (boxed – Rachel Ray Beef, College Inn Bold Stock Tender Beef Flavor)
  •  ¾ bottle cheap, dry white wine and about a glass of red (recommended), OR
  • ¼ bottle cheap, dry red wine
  • 2 sprigs fresh parsley leaves (optional, but highly recommended)
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1 tbsp dried, ground between your fingers as you add it to the pot
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1carrot (optional, but recommended)
  • 1 rib celery (optional, but recommended)
  •  4 or 5 cloves, bud removed
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (optional)
  • 1 baguette or ciabatta bread, cut on the bias into 3/4-inch slices (2 slices per serving)
  • 6 ounces grated cheese, either Gruyere or about a 4-to-1 mixture of Swiss and Asiago
  1. Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add sliced onions and, if butter is unsalted, 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir to coat onions thoroughly with butter. Cook, stirring a bit, until onions are reduced and syrupy and inside of pot is coated with a beautiful deep brown crust, 45 to 60 minutes. Add flour, stir and cook a minute or so longer.
  2. Add the wine(s). Bring to a simmer, scraping the pot bottom with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits, until the mixture looks more homogeneous. Stud the carrot and celery with the cloves, and stir in along with the vegetable or chicken and beef broths, parsley, thyme, and bay leaf. Simmer ‘til the broth is reduced (about 30 minutes if using red wine alone and to 40 to 45 minutes if using the larger amount of white and red wine). Discard herbs, carrot and celery.
  3. Stir in balsamic vinegar, if using, and add salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste.
  4. For the Toasts: Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat to 350 degrees. Spread the bread out on a baking sheet and bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Turn oven to broil.
  5. Set heat-safe soup bowls or crocks on a baking sheet and fill each with about 1 1/2 cups soup. Top each bowl with two toasted baguette slices your cheese(s) of choice. Put in oven to broil and watching like a hawk to prevent burning. Once the cheese looks suitably melty and wonderful, remove from oven, let cool 5 minutes and serve.


Denise said...

Ohh, funny because my little brother and I just had a French Onion Soup-off. This sounds boozy and wonderful.

Did you know America's Test Kitchen has the exact same brand-name stock recommendations?

Also, here's one trick for the crouton on top, which my brother and I both agreed was worth the extra time. This is from Le Cordon Bleu Paris.

Toast 1/2 inch thick bread slices on a baking sheet at 350 till golden. Top with slices or shredded gruyere, and broil briefly. Then, float them cheese-side DOWN in the individual bowls. Top with more gruyere, and a touch of parm because it browns pretty. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes, then, if not browned enough, broil briefly.

I was impressed with how the cheese stuck to the bread, and the thick slices, though crunchy at first, soak up all the delicious soup in the long 15 min bake at 350. And this way you get double the cheese, without the gross floating glop of gruyere ala Panera bread et. al.

Your recipe sounds great, more of a flavourful soup with lots of herbs, not just relying on the onions. The ones we were trying are tedious hours-of-carmelizing-and-deglazing-the pan-times-5 type recipes. Can't wait to try yours out!

flynn said...

i'd love to know what you think - it's worth perfecting, and the cheese technique you describe sounds preferable to the one I was doing. at the end i'm just glad i'm done with the soup and i get lazy.

there are so many crappy stocks out there! colavita makes rachel ray's stock, which is random, but what's not to love? the rapunzel with herbs, if a woman, would be described as voluptuous by the kind and sturdy by the frank;. it's not messing around.

i make my own stock usually, but when i tell people that in a recipe i know it sounds like "ok. so you want to make a scarf. first, raise a sheep ..."

flynn said...

Do you have a recipe for that wonderful vegetable soup you made us the day we moved here? I miss it, and you.