Last week over lunch at Café Midi my sister was tempted to order the French onion soup. It isn’t their most winning menu item, so I suggested that instead we try making our own for dinner on Saturday night (taking a page out of Julia Child and a break from the week of pork – more on that later).
We went to Surfas where we picked up some Gruyère—a cheese so extravagant that I was compelled to rip the $23 price tag off it before my husband came home, only to blurt out a confession moments after he walked in the door because (a) I went to Catholic school and can’t stand the guilt and (b) am the world’s worst liar. Oh and (c) it’s not nice to lie to your husband, for better or for worse, etc!
This soup’s superb complexity comes from a couple hours of slow-cooking onions and simmering. And of course the quality of ingredients. I used vermouth instead of white wine and equal parts veal stock and beef stock for added richness, also picked up at Surfas. I love using vermouth; it gives that nostalgic note that reminds me of my grandmother’s best dishes, which I’m guessing relied heavily on Julia.
And then, the best part: that nutty, slightly sweet Gruyere that I could (and did) eat all on its own. Here’s Julia’s recipe. Follow it to the letter of the law and you seriously won’t believe that something this good could come from a home kitchen.
Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child
For 6 to 8 servings [Foodinista’s note: this serves more like 4 as a main course]
The onions for an onion soup 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. You should therefore count on 2 1/2 hours at least from start to finish. Though the preliminary cooking in butter requires some watching, the actual simmering can proceed almost unattended.
1 1/2 pounds or about 5 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions, plus 1 tablespoon grated onion
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil [Foodinista note: used olive oil]
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar (helps the onions to brown)
3 tablespoons flour
2 quarts boiling brown stock [Foodinista note: used 1/2 veal stock + 1/2 beef stock]
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth [Foodinista note: used dry vermouth]
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons cognac
12 to 16 slices French baguette cut 3/4- to 1-inch thick
2 ounces Swiss cheese cut into very thin slivers + 1 1/2 cups grated Swiss cheese
Cook the sliced onions slowly over low heat with the butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed, covered saucepan for 15 minutes.
Uncover, raise heat to moderate, and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep, golden brown. Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes.
Remove from heat, and blend in boiling stock. Add wine or vermouth, and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 minutes or more, skimming occasionally. Correct seasoning. Add cognac, 1 tablespoon grated onions, and 2 ounces cheese slivers.
While soup is simmering, make croutons by placing bread in one layer in a roasting pan and bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for about half an hour, until it is thoroughly dried out and lightly browned. Halfway through baking, brush with olive oil. After baking, each piece may be rubbed with garlic.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pour soup into ramekins or oven-proof bowls. Float rounds of toasted bread on top, and sprinkle grated cheese over.
Bake for 20 minutes, then for a minute or two under broiler to brown the top lightly. Serve immediately with a glass of red Burgundy. We went with a 2007 Drouhin Côtes-du-Nuits Villages at a relatively cheerful $19.99.