After three blissful weeks in Paris where the thermometer rarely registered out of the 40s, we returned to blizzard conditions in New England and temperatures so cold (try minus 5 as a low and 12 as a high) that we haven’t ventured far from the warmth of our home. Although the Artic blast has prevented us from walking for exercise, it hasn’t diminished our appetites. In fact, the weather has made us ravenous, especially for comfort food.
On my first trip to the grocery, I picked up all the makings for the ultimate cold weather dish—soupe à l’oignon gratinée. This particular recipe, the pièce de résistance of a recent cooking class called Midnight in Paris, is based loosely on the first onion soup I ever made from Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume I. The main difference is that I suggest using a quickly made short-cut beef stock, or, when rushed, opting for quality purchased stock.
Keep in mind that buying an aged Gruyère (I’ve listed one I like that is available at Whole Foods below) and a good crusty baguette for the toasted croutons will add immeasurably to this dish’s success. One last tip, direct from Julia. She suggests stirring some small strips of Gruyère into the soup before adding the toasted bread slices and grated cheese on top. Those little strips melt as the soups simmers, melding beautifully into the onion broth.
We might not be in balmy Paris, but we are staving off the cold with one of the city’s most celebrated potages!
Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 1/2 pounds yellow onions sliced 1/4 inch thick to yield 10 cups
1/4 tsp sugar plus more if needed
1/4 cup flour
2 quarts simmering beef stock (see note)
3/4 cup dry white wine
Freshly ground black pepper
Toasted Baguette Slices and Cheese Topping
18 baguette slices, cut about 3/8 inch thick
3 to 4 tbsp olive oil plus more if needed
10- to 12-oz piece Gruyère (see note)
Equipment needed: 6 ovenproof soup bowls or ramekins (1 to 1 1/2 cup capacity)
1. For the soup, in a large 5 qt heavy pot (with a lid) set over medium low, heat the butter and oil until hot, and then add the onions. Cover the pan and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes.
2. Remove the lid, raise the heat to medium, and stir in 1 tsp salt and the sugar. Cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the onions have become a rich golden color, for 30 to 40 minutes more. Watch carefully so that they do not burn. Sprinkle the flour over the onions. Stir constantly for 5 minutes to remove the raw taste from the flour.
3. Remove the pot from the heat and pour in the simmering stock and 1/2 cup of the wine. Season the soup with salt and pepper, and also with a pinch or two of sugar if desired. Return to medium heat and simmer the soup, partially covered for 40 minutes more, skimming off foam if necessary. Add the remaining 1/4 cup wine and season soup again with salt and pepper. (Soup can be prepared 3 days ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat.)
4. While the soup is simmering, arrange a rack at center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Brush the baguette slices generously on both sides with olive oil and arrange on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until slices are crisp, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Remove and cool. (Baguette slices can be prepared 2 days ahead; store in an airtight container at room temperature.) Retain oven temperature.
5. Grate enough Gruyère to yield 1 1/2 cups. Then cut enough of the remaining cheese into thin slivers about1-inch long by 1/4 inch thick to yield about 1/2 cup. Set aside.
6. Arrange the bowls or ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet and fill them 3/4 full with the hot soup. Stir some slivered cheese into each bowl. Float 2 to 3 baguette slices on top of each serving, and sprinkle each generously with some grated cheese. You may have some soup, cheese, or croutons left over. Save for another use.
7. Bake until the cheese has melted and is lightly browned, 15 minutes. Watch constantly. If desired, run under a hot broiler to brown more for only a minute or two. Serves 6.
Note: Use the Short-Cut Beef Stock recipe below or buy a high quality prepared stock such as Swanson’s Cooking Stock (beef flavor), an excellent nicely flavored dark broth that works well in this recipe.
Note: Whole Foods sells Reserve Gruyère, a fine aged cheese that is more expensive than most Gruyères, but has a terrific taste.
Short-Cut Beef Stock
2 quarts (8 cups) reduced-sodium beef stock such as Swanson Cooking Stock), plus a little extra if needed
2 ribs celery cut in 1-inch pieces
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut in 1-inch pieces
2 medium onions, peeled, halved and cut into 1-inch slices
2 sprigs flat leaf parsley
2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1. Place stock, celery, carrots, onions, parsley and thyme sprigs in a large, heavy saucepan or pot (with a lid) set over medium heat. Bring mixture to a simmer, lower heat, cover, and cook at a simmer for 30 minutes.
2. Drain in a large sieve, pressing down on the vegetables and herbs to extract as much liquid as possible. Reserve the stock. You should have 8 cups stock. If not, add extra water to make 8 cups. (Stock can be prepared 2 days ahead; keep covered and refrigerated. It can also be frozen. Place in a freezer container, label with name and date and store up to 3 months.) Makes 2 qts.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2014
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