Friday, December 21, 2012

Ooh La La! French Onion Soup- Well Worth the Effort!

I love French Onion Soup! Dinner for two by the fireplace, a little candlelight, a great bottle of wine, a crispy salad and bubbly, crusty onion soup. Perfect!

Most restaurant and grocery store French onion soups are either too salty or too watery and flavourless. If you love good food, it's so frustrating.  Sooo, it's well worth the effort to make it from scratch, the long way... but make a big batch and freeze it so you'll have lots on hand.  However, if you must, shortcuts are included at the end of this recipe.

Last week, I prepared two different batches: one with red wine and another with porter beer.  Both delicious!  The beer version was just a tad sweeter.  They were made for Neil, Carol and Barry who rated this recipe a double thumbs up and reordered more...

It will take two days to make the soup.  On day one, you make the beef broth.  That's easy and doesn't need your attention very often.  You'll be busier on day two... This recipe will make six servings and can be doubled or tripled.

For the beef broth:
3   large beef soup bones- I used marrow bones from Illichman's and asked them to halve them
3   bay leaves
2   medium onions, cut into quarters, unpeeled
1   leek, peeled, cleaned and rinsed to remove dirt and white part cut into large pieces
2   medium carrots, scrubbed, cut into large chunks
2   celery stalks, cut into large chunks
3-4 garlic cloves, unpeeled and smashed
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
3-4 sprigs of parsley

For the soup:
2    tbsp unsalted butter
1    tbsp grapeseed or olive oil
5-6 medium onions, mix red, Spanish, white, yellow onions.  Thinly slice (a food processor is great for this job)
1    tbsp all purpose flour
8    cups homemade beef broth
1    cup dry red wine
2    sprigs each of fresh thyme and fresh parsley
2    bay leaves
1    tbsp Worcestershire sauce (or use balsamic vinegar)
Salt and pepper to taste

6    slices from a baguette, cut on the bias into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices (enough bread to cover the surface of the soup) and toasted.
8    ounces of mixed grated cheese: choose from some of the following cheese Swiss, mozzarella, cheddar, asiago

French onion soup bowls for serving (ovenproof bowls)

For the broth
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place all of the ingredients in a shallow roasting pan and roast for approximately one hour.

Simmering roasted bones and vegetables
 In a large stockpot, combine the roasted bones and vegetables with 10 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then simmer gently for approximately three hours.  Strain the stock and discard the bones and vegetables.  When the broth has cooled, place in the refrigerator overnight.

The next morning, skim the fat from the top of the broth and discard.  Heat the broth on medium heat, then simmer gently.

For the soup
Caramelized onions
Melt the butter and oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium high heat.  Add the sliced onions  and a pinch of salt.  Stir to coat the onions with the butter/oil mixture.  Cook, stirring frequently until the onions are reduced, but not browned.  Lower the heat and continue cooking until they caramelize.  Sprinkle the flour over the onions and stir.  Add the beef broth and the red wine, parsley, thyme and bay leaves.  Bring to a slow simmer and allow the flavours to blend, approximately 30 minutes.  Discard the herbs, stir in the Worcestershire sauce and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.

At this point, you can cool the soup to room temperature and refrigerate in an airtight container for up to two days.  Or, you can portion pack and place in the freezer.  I place three cups of soup in a medium freezer bag, good for two servings.

If serving immediately, place about 1 1/2 cups of hot soup in oven proof bowls, top with the toasted baguette slices, sprinkle with a generous amount of grated cheese mix.  Place the oven rack in the upper middle position and heat the broiler.  Set the bowls on a baking sheet and place under the broiler until the cheese is melted and golden brown- approximately eight minutes.  Let the soup cool for about five minutes.  Careful, it will still be hot!

If you've frozen the soup, thaw in the refrigerator overnight and heat the soup until boiling.  Follow the previous instructions for the topping.

OK- the cheater version saves you one day.  Replace the delicious homemade broth with six cups of canned, low-sodium chicken broth and two cups of canned low-sodium beef broth.

When I make this soup for clients, I freeze the soup into double portions (see above) and I provide them with toasted garlic/cheese bread.  I buy day old baguettes, slice them as directed above and toast them lightly.  Spread on homemade garlic butter and return to a 400 degree oven for just a few minutes.  Remove from the oven and sprinkle about one tablespoon of grated cheese on each slice.  Replace in the hot oven and cook until the cheese melts.  Cool, then freeze.  When serving the soup, follow the directions above, but top up this cheesy bread with additional grated cheese before placing under the broiler.

Replace the wine with beer.  I used porter beer which provided a slightly sweet flavour to the soup.  Neil liked this version as well.

For a vegetarian version, use a vegetable broth: roast vegetables in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes. You could use- 1-2 leeks, 2-3 onions, 3-4 carrots, 3-4 celery stalks, 1 whole garlic, 2-3 tomatoes, 8 oz mushrooms, 3-4 sprigs of thyme, 2-3 bay leaves, 3-4 sprigs of parsley.  Place the roasted vegetables in a stockpot and add ten cups of water.  You could also add dried porcini mushrooms for added flavour.  bring to a boil then simmer gently for approximately one hour.

Strain the stock and discard the vegetables. Follow the directions above for the soup.


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