January 31, 2011

Vive la France: Soupe à l’Onion Gratinée

Winter is comfort food time, and does anyone do comfort food better than the French? Hearty cassoulets, coq au vin, lamb navarin, fricassée, tarte tatin – classic bistro fare that warms the stomach and soothes the soul.

About this time of year, Richard goes to Paris on business and when he returns, he is full of stories of meals eaten and meals savoured; new favourites found and old haunts revisited. It makes me hungry for a taste of France, and nothing is more satisfying than a bubbling bowl of French onion soup, served straight from the oven.

French Onion Soup
serves 6

Here’s my take on the French classic. I like to use a mix of beef and veal stock for extra richness, and to grill the bread for an added smoky flavour.

2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp plus ¼ c olive oil
4 large cooking onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf (preferably fresh)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
½ c Madeira
6 c beef stock (or a combination of beef and veal stock)
1 tsp fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
12 slices French bread
¾ lb grated Gruyere cheese, grated
6 ovenproof French onion soup bowls

1. In a large stockpot, melt the butter in the olive oil over medium high heat. When the foam subsides, add the onion, lower heat to medium and sauté for fifteen minutes, stirring to keep the onions from sticking.

2. Add the garlic, bay leaf and thyme. Continuing sautéing and stirring until the onions are a deep golden colour. Turn heat to high, add the Madeira and cook for an additional two minutes, stirring frequently, until most of the wine has boiled off.

3. Add the beef stock, salt and pepper, bring the soup to a boil, and lower to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes more.

4. While the soup is simmering, prepare the bread and preheat the oven to the broil setting. Brush the bread slices with olive oil and broil (or grill), turning to brown evenly. Set aside.

I love the convenience of our indoor grill for quick and easy grilling

5. When the soup has finished simmering, check and adjust the salt and pepper to taste. Place two slices of bread in each bowl, and ladle in enough soup to barely cover the bread. Sprinkle each bowl with a generous amount of Gruyere. Set the oven rack to the middle position. Place the bowls on a baking sheet, put in the oven, and broil until the cheese has melted and is bubbly and slightly brown, about 3-5 minutes.

Be generous with the cheese but not overly so; the ingredients should all play in balance with one another

6. Serve it forth piping hot for a delicious and satisfying winter dish.