I woke this morning with a sore throat, a foggy head, and a low fever. I went back to bed for a few hours after running some errands in the morning and woke up feeling slightly better, but I knew our plans to go out for Thai food and see Patrice O’Neal at the Improv were foiled. Zak wins free tickets more than any other human I know, and I know he was excited to see Patrice. Instead, he decided to stay home and keep his sickie company, which was very sweet though totally unnecessary. One thing my nap did, though, was slightly revive my appetite. What to eat?
Homemade beef stock? Check. Lots and lots of Vidalia onions thanks to sale prices at Marc’s? Check. A variety of delicious cheeses? Check. An entire afternoon to caramelize and simmer? Check!
So I decided to make some French Onion soup. I’ve never made French Onion soup before, but a quick Google search confirmed the main ingredients, as my palate had led me to believe, were caramelized onions, beef stock, bread and cheese. The only thing I needed was bread. Zak is the bread man around here, so he zipped off to the store to get a boxed bread mix and some more ginger ale for me (have I mentioned how lucky I am?). I read about a dozen recipes from all over the place and decided to just wing it.
The end result was really, really good. It didn’t have the cloying sweetness that you sometimes get from French Onion soup, but had a delicate, smoky caramel flavor that had me licking the bowl. I felt much better after eating a steaming bowl of this. I have a feeling I’m going to wake up tomorrow and feel basically 100% thanks to the fortifying powers of this yummy comfort food.
French Onion Soup
Serves 3-4 (or 2 with leftovers, which are delicious!)
3 small vidalia onions, sliced
2 tbs. olive oil
1 tbs. salted butter
3 1/2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
3-4 tsp. all natural whole wheat flour
2 cups white wine, divided (I used chardonnay)
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. dried parsley, divided
1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme, divided
1 tsp. oregano
12 cups of homemade beef stock
A few slices of cheese & herb bread (recipe Zak used follows)
1/2 cup each of Jarlsberg and Parmesan cheeses, grated
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
Begin by slicing your onions into “half moons.” Don’t be too fussed about separating the sections for the time being. Heat 2 tbs. of olive oil and 1 tbs. of butter in a medium-sized, no-stick stock pot. Once the oil is hot and butter is melted reduce heat to medium-low and add sliced onions. Sprinkle with a large pinch of kosher salt. Stirring frequently, caramelize the onions.
The caramelized onions are absolutely essential to the successful outcome of this dish. It takes a long time, about an hour, and there really is no way to make the process go any faster. I’ve seen a variety of tips, including adding sugar, adding vinegar, adding this, turning the heat up here or there, but none of it works (trust me, I’ve tried pretty much every which way). The real key is just keeping the heat on low and keeping an eye on your onions. It’s fine to walk away, but make sure the heat is very low and you come back within a few minutes to give it a stir. When the onions are a rich, golden brown (NOT blackened), they’re ready. I keep mine on the lighter end of a golden brown, because Zak isn’t a huge fan of caramelization and I don’t like to overdo it.
After caramelizing onions roughly one hour, add the garlic and sauté until light golden brown, 5-8 minutes. Add flour a little bit at a time, stirring to make a roux. Keep over low heat for 1-2 minutes to let thicken and brown slightly. Add one cup of white wine, red wine vinegar and bay leaves. Add about half of parsley, thyme, oregano and salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste. You can re-season later, so don’t add the full teaspoons until then. Simmer over medium low heat, uncovered, 10 minutes until slightly thickened and most of wine has evaporated.
Add 8 cups of frozen beef broth. Turn heat to medium-high and melt beef stock. You can also used defrosted stock. Keep at a low simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat for 1-2 hours.
Taste often and if necessary adjust seasonings or add more stock. The soup should reduce by about 1/3 before serving.
Near to serving time, grate cheeses and mix together well. Preheat broiler. Slice bread (recipe follows) about 1/4-1/2 inch thick, and toast to a deep golden-brown. Place soup into bowls, top with bread and cheeses and broil 3-4 minutes until cheese is melted and golden brown.
Cheese & Herb Bread
1 box Hodgson Mill European Cheese & Herb Bread Mix which requires:
- 1 cup water, warmed in microwave but NOT hot
- Entire package of dry bread mix from box
- 2 tbs. vegetable oil
- Entire included packet of yeast
1 egg, beaten with fork
1/2 cup of sharp cheddar cheese, grated
In a microwave proof container, heat water about 20 seconds until warm. Make sure the water isn’t too hot, it will kill the yeast.
Combine all ingredients through yeast in a bread machine and run the dough cycle in order to mix the dough. Place your oven on the “warm setting.” Take the dough out of the bread machine before it bakes.
Spray a large glass bowl with non-stick cooking spray. Place the dough in the bowl and top with a lid or plate. Turn the warm setting off and place the bowl with dough in the oven. Let rise one hour.
Remove dough from oven. Place warm setting on again. Place on lightly floured cutting board and knead 5 minutes or so. Spray a bread pan with cooking spray. Place the bread in the pan and brush with egg, making sure to get some down the sides. Sprinkle the top of the bread with the grated cheddar cheese.
Place bread in pan back in oven and turn warm setting “off.” Rise 30 more minutes.
Remove the bread from the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°. Allow the bread to bake for 25-30 minutes until the crust of the bread is deep golden brown.
Let rest before slicing.