Whenever I want to feel like I’m making a fancy-schmancy meal I think of two dishes: French Onion Soup and stuffed mushrooms. I think it hearkens back to my days waiting tables in steakhouses. Those two starters, plus escargot and anything Oscar-style, seemed to indicate that people were out to Dine, cholesterol and calories be damned. They’re rich and decadent and who cares that your arteries are waving white flags?
While I haven’t tackled escargot (that’s a funny picture) or crab with bernaise, I have made a few stabs at stuffed mushrooms and French onion soup. The fungi will come later, but here’s how I make a soup that is both fancy schmancy and deceptively easy.
To make French onion soup you need onions, beef broth, some sort of liquor, really great bread, and pungent and creamy cheese, not necessarily in that order and not necessarily the same cheese. Add thyme, butter (or margarine, for the lactose intolerant), salt and pepper and voila – a soup that’s ooh-la-licious.
Some recipes say you have to have vidalia onions, sweet onions, perfect onions. Scratch that. You need onions. Your broth, however, should be beef. This could be from a can, a box, or a bullion cube, but it should be beef. Unless you’re a vegetarian, and then if you’ve got a substitute that tastes like beef you can use that. No matter what, it should taste like liquid that’s had a piece of meat simmering in it for a good long while.
Whatever type of onion you use you’ll need a LOT of it. A couple of cups, at least. Cut it into slices, and those can be thin or thick depending on what you like. Thicker you’ll need to cook longer. Just don’t dice these onions. You want to know they’re there. They’re the centerpiece (despite what the cheese may tell you).
Take your butter or margarine and melt it in a large pan. Add the onions and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally until they’re translucent. Then let them sit for a few minutes. You’ll be tempted to stir them a lot but don’t. You want to get a little bit of carmelization, so the onions need to sit in the butter over the heat. Give them five, then stir. No browning? Let them sit longer.
Once you’ve got a bit of browning in there add some liquor. I prefer red wine, but I’ve used vermouth and white wine. Add about 1/2 a cup, and bring the heat up so it boils. Once that liquid cooks down reduce to a simmer and add your spices. A couple teaspoons of thyme and a couple teaspoons of black pepper. Stir it up and then add your broth. Let that simmer for about 45 – 55 minutes.
After about 40 minutes put some 3/4″ thick slices of really good bread into a 400 degree oven. Cook about 3 minutes on each side, but watch them closely. If you’ve got a broiler, even better. When they’re crispy but not burnt take them out but leave the oven on at the same temperature.
Spoon the soup into oven-proof bowls and put them on a cookie sheet. Put the toasted bread in the bowl of soup. Top with cheese. Lots and lots of cheese. I like to use Provolone and top with shredded parmesan or Romano. Then put back into the oven for about five minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and a little brown.
That’s it! Easy yet fancy, and oh, so cheesy.
Ooh-la-licious French Onion Soup
- 2 tbsp butter or margarine
- 2 cups Sliced Onions
- 1/2 cup red wine, white wine, or vermouth
- 2 tsp thyme
- 2 tsp black pepper
- 4 cups beef broth (give or take)
- 4 large slices of good bread – Italian, Pugliese, French
- 4 slices creamy cheese, like provolone
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups shredded hard cheese, like parmesan, romano, or asiago
Melt butter or margarine in a large pot. Add onions, cooking on medium-low heat and stirring until translucent. Continue cooking until onions start to brown. Add wine or vermouth and bring the heat up so it boils. Keep cooking at that heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is almost completely cooked down. Add broth and turn heat down to low. Simmer for 45 – 55 minutes.
While the soup is simmering heat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the bread on a cookie sheet and cook for about three minutes per side, until the crust is a little brown and the bread is crispy all over.
After the soup is done simmering ladle it into four oven-proof bowls. Place the bread in the center of each bowl and then top with the sliced cheese and sprinkle the shredded cheese on top of that. Put the bowls on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven for about five minutes or until the cheese is bubbly. You can also use a broiler for the bread and the final step, but you’ll want to keep a close eye on things so nothing burns.