Spring is in the air and that means a whole new crop. This week I'm excited about onions. We have been watching our onions grow and grow, certain that some are going to bust out of their containers. We harvested a few last week and I was overly excited about getting them home to cook with. They were so aromatic in a very pleasantly sweet way. I also brought home fresh thyme and scallions from the farm.
Let me tell you why onions are awesome. There are a ton of benefits to eating a variety of fresh foods and the onion is no exception. I've recently been watching and reading anything involving the phenomenal food writer Michael Pollan. In his latest book, Cooked, he says "Microbiologists believe that onions, garlic, and spices protect us from the growth of dangerous bacteria on meat. This might explain why the use of these plants in cooking becomes more common the closer you get to the equator, where keeping meat from spoiling becomes progressively more challenging." So onions are a superfood and they are delicious in pretty much everything.
I decided to make French Onion Soup with all of these fresh hydroponically grown onions. Let me preface the following recipe by saying that I don't follow recipes. Well, not exactly anyway. I use recipes to get the basic framework of what I'm going to make but I personally love to cut down the shopping list by utilizing whatever is already available in my fridge, pantry, and garden. I recommend you save time and money by doing the same. Don't be afraid to experiment and deviate from the recipe to make use of the things you have on hand.
French Onion Soup may seem like a very fancy and difficult meal but rest assured, it's one of the easiest meals to make. It's incredibly hearty so it can be served all on its own as the main course or you can pair it with a salad, sandwich, or other entree. Traditional, or "real", recipes will tell you that you have to use Vidalia onions, a French baguette, Gruyere cheese from a wedge, high-quality red wine, beef stock, and no garlic. While I've made soup this way and it is indeed delicious, you don't need all of that to make a great FOS.
- 1/2 cup butter or 1 stick (unsalted is better but if all you have is salted, it's ok, just use less salt in your recipe)
- 4 large onions or 8-12 small ones (you can add more or less, depending on how oniony you want your soup)
- 2 garlic cloves or 2 teaspoons chopped garlic (again, adjust to how much you like garlic)
- 2 big bay leaves or 4 smaller ones
- 4-6 sprigs of fresh thyme (you can also use 1-2 teaspoons dried)
- 1-2 cups red wine or roughly 1/2 bottle (cabernet or merlot work best; you are cooking the alcohol out anyway so save your good wine for drinking)
- 3-5 tablespoons AP flour (enough to dust the onions but don't overdo it)
- 2 quarts broth/stock (beef provides a richer flavor but any stock will work; you can use pre-made stock or bouillon cubes)
- baguette (the older and crustier, the better; you can use cuban, french, wheat, white, etc)
- cheese (Gruyere is standard but expensive; you can substitute swiss or provolone, sliced or shredded)
- Salt & Pepper to your taste
- Scallions for garnish
- Set out all ingredients you'll be using before you start
- Slice your onions so they are in long strips (how to lyonnaise an onion)
- If using bouillon cubes, start boiling the water to dissolve the cubes
- Chop garlic if using fresh cloves
- Chop scallions
- Melt butter in a large stock pot over medium heat
- Add onions, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, some pepper, and a pinch or two of salt (go easy on the salt, as you can always add more later)
- Cook over medium heat approximately 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. You are looking to soften and caramelize the onions. This is a great job for a kid who is eager to help.
- Add the wine (after taste-testing it, of course), bring to a boil, and then reduce to simmer on medium-low heat. It will take 5-10 minutes to cook the wine down until the onions are mostly dry.
- Remove the bay leaves and thyme (if you used whole sprigs).
- Starting with just 3 tablespoons, sprinkle the flour on the onions and stir. You are trying to lightly coat them. If you need a bit more, go ahead and add it.
- Cook the onions on low heat for roughly 10 minutes but make sure the flour doesn't burn.
- Add the broth, stir well, and turn the heat back up until the soup reaches a simmer (medium-low or medium). Cook for 15 minutes.
- Taste it. Add salt and pepper as desired. At this stage, the soup can be refrigerated, separated into containers and frozen, or prepared to eat immediately.
- When you are ready to eat, ladle hot soup into ramekins, earthenware bowls or mugs, or glass bakeware that can be put in the oven. Place dishes on a cookie sheet with edges. If you do not have any containers suitable for the oven, that is ok. Just put soup in a regular bowl and follow the second part of #11 directions.
- Slice bread and place enough directly on top of the soup to cover it. Top that with cheese to your liking and then broil under a low setting until golden brown. (If you do not have the proper bakeware, just put the bread on a baking sheet, top with cheese, broil, and then place cheesy toast on top of your soup.
- Top with scallions and fresh grated pepper if you have it, grab a spoon, and enjoy.
In the words of Samin Nosrat, a chef and mentor to Michael Pollan, "The key to cooking is patience, practice, and presence, being there, and that when you chop an onion, just chop an onion. Don't fight it. It's a Zen."