There is nothing better or tastier than a hearty bowl of robust soup bursting with flavor to warm the soul on a snowy winter day. So when the weather forecast predicted yet another snow storm was set to shower the Jersey Coast with 6-12” on top of the existing 30” of ice-clad snowdrifts, out came a favorite cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child and Simone Beck. Therein was the secret to my most favorite soup, Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée (Onion Soup Gratinéed with Cheese).
Unlike some of the complicated recipes portrayed in the popular book and movie, Julie and Julia, this recipe is a cinch to make ~ it just takes time to do it right and evoke all the succulent flavors. In the directions, Julia even warns to count on 2 ½ hours at least from start to finish. “The onions need a long, slow cooking in butter and oil, then a long, slow simmering in stock for them to develop the deep, rich flavor which characterizes a perfect brew.” Initially, while browning the onions, you need to be watchful. Once the simmering starts, you can relax with a good book and just an occasional checking in and stirring.
Soupe à l’oignon gratinée (6 to 8 servings)
- 1 ½ lbs., about 5 cups, thinly sliced sweet onions (preferably Vidalia)
- 3 Tbsp. butter
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- A heavy-bottomed 4-quart covered saucepan
- Cook the onions slowly with the butter and olive oil in the covered saucepan for 15 minutes.
- 1 tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. sugar (this helps the onions to brown)
Uncover, raise heat to moderate, and stir in salt and sugar. Toss to coat onions and cook for 30 to 40 minutes stirring frequently until the onions have turned an even, deep golden brown.
- 3 Tbsp. flour
- Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes.
- 2 quarts boiling brown stock (preferably homemade) or 1 quart boiling water and 1 quart bouillon (My preference is the undiluted stock for a richer soup.)
- ½ cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Turn off the heat and blend in boiling liquid. Add the wine and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 minutes, skimming off the top occasionally. Correct seasoning.
While soup is simmering, slice a French baguette into ½ slices and place one layer on a cookie sheet sprayed with olive oil. Baste one side of croûtes with olive oil and rub with slice of garlic. Toast in preheated 325º oven for about ½ hour until lightly browned. Halfway through baking turn slice over and baste with more oil. Do not overbrown.
- 2 oz. Swiss or Gruyere cheese cut in thin slivers
- 3 Tbsp. cognac
Pour simmering soup into a fireproof tureen or individual soup pots. Stir in cognac and half the slivered cheese. Float two croûtes on top of cheese and cover with the rest of the cheese. Sprinkle with olive oil or dabs of butter and bake for 20 minutes. Set under broiler for a minute or two to lightly brown the top. Serve immediately.
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