I’ve been having cravings. It’s been a steady stream of alternating summer foods with those associated with winter. Fresh corn and tomatoes accompanying grilled vegetables, salsa and watermelon almost daily have been intermittently interrupted with chicken and dumplings, the best pot pie you’ll ever have (just ask the kids) and hearty casseroles.
Why would I do such a thing from early June to July? If you read the food magazines, they’d say I lost my mind. But if I’m paying a hefty power bill, I’m going to use it. This house is pretty efficient (knock on wood) and I give the old AC a good workout. It’s downright chilly when I wake, tolerable in the peak of the day and cool when the sun goes down.
The poor thing went out on me last summer and it took two days to get the part. After one night in a house with no air, fans blasting, cold showers and the works, we packed a bag and used hotel points to grab a room where we dropped the temp to as low as it would go and ordered a pizza. That was a stroke of luck we had the points.
Moral of the story is: I don’t mind working in the heat, but I’m going to relax in the cold. Wild as it may seem to have these winter foods, it doesn’t faze my family a bit. My latest craving has been French onion soup.
I bitch and moan at the idea of restaurants who put their soup specials on hold for the summer “season.” That’s practically eight-to-10 Port City months without soup. We don’t deserve that, Mobilians. We come from hearty stock and can handle hot soup in hot weather. After all, there’s enough cold beer and iced tea in this town to put out an inferno.
This recipe is easy. Take liberties with the bread. French onion soup is low carb if you don’t use any bread. It’s thick enough to support the cheese without any. If you aren’t afraid of a little carbohydrates, most crusty forms will do. I’m using French bread. A friend of mine in college used toasted bagels, so just about anything will work.
For the onions, I went heavy on the Vidalias. Don’t confuse these with plain, yellow (the English call them brown) onions, though the color isn’t far off. For contrast I used red onions, which have a different sweetness than Vidalia. After that, I chose a large white onion to sharpen the flavor a bit. My ratio of Vidalia to red to white was 3:2:1. If they are large enough, this ratio could easily translate to the number of onions used.
There are big names out there who tighten up this soup with a little flour. I didn’t feel that was necessary. Nor did I think an optional snort of Cognac would suit this marriage of flavors, but you commonly see that in recognizable recipes. I’d think the flour would matter if you were using more stock, and the Cognac would matter if you were stuck with boring onions. The ones I had were too good to be colored by anything else.
While reading this you might be inclined to ask what I did with the bacon. Well, I ate it for lunch. The recipe, although simple, takes a little while. I was hungry. No big deal. If you want bacon in your soup, feel free to crumble it back in. Or make a sandwich.
4 lb. onions, a mixture of Vidalia, red and white
1 stick of butter
3 strips of bacon
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs of thyme
2 cups dry red wine
1 quart beef stock
Shredded Swiss and Gruyere cheeses
Peel the onions and cut them in half, top to bottom. Slice those halves lengthwise at about quarter-inch intervals. These are going to cook down tremendously, so anything smaller will practically make them disappear.
Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Fry the bacon in the butter. Yes, you read that correctly. Once you’ve rendered the fat, remove the crispy bacon and drain it on a paper towel. Add the onions and stir enough to coat them with grease. Let them cook. By that I mean don’t be obsessive with stirring. They won’t burn. Stir every 10-15 minutes. They should be ready about 45 minutes into it. Your house will smell amazing.
Add the garlic and cook for two minutes. Add thyme and bay leaves. Add salt sparingly, but pepper to your heart’s content. Your beef stock probably has salt in it. If that’s not enough, we can adjust later.
At this point the onions will have released their moisture and will already be soupy. Add the red wine and cook for 10 minutes, until it is slightly reduced. Add stock and cover. Reduce heat to a simmer and stir occasionally.
Set the oven for 300 degrees. You can use a variety of bread, depending on your serving vessel. If you own oven-safe soup crocks, slice the bread so that it fits the top of the bowl. In this case, we are using a casserole, so I’m using multiple pieces. Toast the bread to a slow, crunchy brown.
For my family of four it was easiest to ladle the soup into a small casserole. We floated the bread on top and covered it with cheese, blasting it under the broiler until the cheese was melted and browned. Served with a decent bottle of red (French, of course) and an appetizer of cold deviled eggs, I could feel the touch of cooler weather as my air conditioner set the mood. You’ll be here soon enough, dear winter.
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