Food for Thought

(Oct. 5, 2018) The slightest shift in the seasons entices my palate toward a degree of difference.

It is this distinction that makes for a more memorable occasion and keeps guests coming back for more.

Fall is my favorite time of the year. Hot, humid days dissipate before my eyes and cool, gentle breezes wet my appetite for change. Apples, butternut squash and gorgeous roasts bring a sense of comfort as the cooler weather makes its way to the Eastern Shore.

Fall is also a prelude to the holiday season. Some might think I am a bit obsessive but early preparation equates great success. Classic recipes that are prepared with the utmost consideration are good to have in one’s repertoire of offerings.

French onion soup is a perfect example. Who would not love the rich gooey texture of gruyere cheese nestled on a bread crouton that floats in bowl of splendid caramelized onions and rich beef broth that has been fortified with veal and chicken stock.

French onion soup is simple to make as long as you understand the philosophy behind the appetizer.

The three main components of the soup are onions, broth and cheese. Much attention to detail is necessary for exceptional results; we will discuss in details the steps for delicious French onion soup.

First and foremost, the onions must be caramelized for optimum taste. When a recipe calls for sautéed or caramelized onions; it is typically looking for onions to be sliced pole to pole (vertically) unless it specifies a different cut. Onions cut in this particular fashion break down more evenly while cooking which produces a better texture and taste.

For those who are not familiar with slicing onions pole to pole, allow me to explain. Imagine an onion as a globe with the stem at the north pole and the root at the south. Slice the onions vertically, starting at one side of the onion and working your way to the other side.

Roasted garlic is also added to the onion mixture. Roasting the garlic gives the broth a unique essence. This is just another layer of flavor that adds to the overall experience.

Stock is the next subject for thought. A combination of beef, veal and chicken broth ensures a rich foundation and delightful piquancy.

Simmering the broth for an extended period of time with the caramelized onions is a must. A touch of sherry cuts the richness of the onions and adds depth to the soup.

The soft cheese with crispy edges is the final phase and piece de resistance.

Gruyere is the only cheese to use; Swiss and mozzarella can be substituted but the results will not be the same.

The following recipe takes a little longer than your typical French onion soup, but it is worth the extra effort. Special occasions deserve a special meal and this recipe is one of them. Enjoy!

French Onion Soup

Soup

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

5 large yellow onions, halved and cut pole to pole into ¼-inch-thick slices

1 large red onion, halved and cut pole to pole into ¼-inch-thick slices

3 large shallots, sliced into ¼-inch-thick slices

6 large cloves garlic, peeled

1 teaspoon kosher salt plus extra according to taste

½ cup dry sherry

2 cups water

2 cups beef broth

2 cups veal stock

2 cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon Herbs de Province

1 large bay leaf

freshly ground pepper to taste

Cheese Croutons

1 small baguette or favorite firm bread, cut into ½-inch slices

8 ounces shredded Gruyere cheese

1. For the soup: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Generously spray inside of Dutch oven with nonstick cooking spray. Place butter in pot and add onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook for 1 hour.

2. Remove pot from oven and stir onions, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot. Add garlic, cover, and continue to cook for another 1 ¾ hours, stirring onion mixture and scraping the bottom and sides after 1 hour.

3. Carefully remove pot from oven, uncover and place over medium-high heat. Using oven mitts to handle pot, cook onions, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom and sides of pot, until liquid evaporates, onions are brown, and garlic is broken down. Reduce heat to medium if onions are browning too quickly. Continue to cook until the pot bottom is brown but not burnt.

4. Stir in sherry and cook until sherry evaporates, constantly stirring and scraping up the coveted bits of flavor.

5. Stir in broths, 2 cups water, thyme, Herbs de Province, bay leaf and salt to taste. Scrape up any final bits that may have formed in the bottom of the pan. Adjust seasoning and discard bay leaf. Increase heat to high and cook for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.

6. For the crouton: While the soup simmers, bake baguettes slices in 400-degree oven until bread is dry, crisp and golden brown around the edges. Set aside.

7. For the presentation: Adjust oven rack to broiler settings. Set individual broiler-safe crocks on baking sheet and fill each with 1 ¾ cups soup. Top each bowl with 1 or 2 baguette slices (do not overlap) and sprinkle evenly with Gruyere cheese. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly around the edges. Allow to rest 3 minutes before serving.

Serves 4

Secret Ingredient – Invention. “Invention is the talent of youth, as judgement is of age.”

— Jonathan Swift

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