Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Onion Soup

According to a number of articles I have read lately, we're more and more interested in preparing cheap meals these days. I don't know about you, but one of the reasons I have always cooked for myself and my family is to save money (and to have more nutritious food and because I love to cook, etc. etc. etc.), so let's agree that most of us have been ahead of the cost-saving curve for a while.

One of the cheapest, most soul-satisfying soups I make is onion soup. Most of us are familiar with the spongy breaded, plastic-cheese encapsulated, super salty versions available at restaurants. It's quite easy to make your own version at home, yielding a much more delicious bowl of soup. I also think it's amazing that such a delicious dinner can come from such a short (and cheap) ingredient list.

Instead of crowning my soup with a slice of bread and melted cheese, I keep my garnishes on the side. I usually serve it with cheese toast (slices of toasted bread with some cheese melted on top) or slices of bread and cheese. This has the advantage of the diner getting to choose just how soaked they want their bread. Plus, since you aren't gently sliding soup bowls topped with molten cheese in and out of the oven, it is much easier to manage at dinner time.

This is a recipe, but a very loose one - substitute leeks, shallots, cipolline, and/or garlic for some of the onions. You can use sweet onions, Spanish onions, red onions, white onions ...

You can use broth or water and you can deglaze with wine, brandy or broth. Use soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce to boost flavor if needed. The only non-negotiable is the multiple deglazings. You want those onions to give up all of their flavor and deglazing 2 or 3 (or even 4) times is the way to make that happen. It takes a long time to cook the onions, but it's mostly hands-off and you can do other things while they're sizzling away. This soup tastes even better the next day so it's a great make-ahead.

Onion Soup
Serves 3-6, depending on serving size
  • 4 large onions, peeled (softball sized) - or substitute some shallots and/or leeks and/or garlic, half the vegetables should be onion
  • 1 cup red wine - or brandy or use broth
  • 1 quart chicken or beef broth - or use water
  • 2 cups water
  • optional: bay leaf, dried thyme
  • optional flavor boosters: soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Maggi, etc.
  • salt and pepper to taste
Cut the onions in half (or quarters if they are very large). Slice the onions very thin. Saute the onions over medium heat in a small stockpot or large saucepan. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are browned and very soft. This may take as long as an hour.

When the onions are browned and soft, turn the heat up and pour about 1/3 of the wine over the onion. Scrape up any browned bits. Simmer until all the wine is cooked off. Repeat the degalzing process 2 more times, each time cooking the wine off. Pour in the broth and water and add any dried herbs you want. Simmer the onion and broth together and taste for seasoning. If the flavor is flat (you'll know if it is - it should taste like something you want to eat) add soy or Worcestershire sauce, a few dashes at a time, until the flavor is better.

Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve with cheese toast if you like.

1 comment:

Julia said...

thyme? Really? I don't think onion soup tastes like onion soup without a ton of rubbed sage. A few dried porcinis don't hurt either.

Also, unless you like sweet soup (which I don't, really, and which onion soup especially with sherry tends to be), nonni had a great trick - a splash of espresso. Really helps cut the sweetness. I keep a tiny jar of decaf Medaglia D'Oro instant in the pantry for just this purpose.

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