French Onion soup reminds me of happy days.
My first taste of the stuff was back when I used to serve it to customers at the Cafe’ Internationale at the old location in the Emerson Cultural Center in Bozeman. I was only 15 but already broadening my palate and I quickly fell in love with Chef Andy’s version – a rich, dark broth, just a bit peppery, with a generous chunk of Havarti cheese that always sunk to the bottom of the bowl and streeetched back up from bowl to spoon to mouth. We must have gone through gallons of the stuff every week.
Then I remember French Onion Soup as the first course of our Valentine’s Day lunch in a little cafe in the Les Halles part of Paris. Frank had never had it before and needed some convincing that cheese in soup was a good idea, but I think he came around to my side pretty fast. It was a beautiful day and a lovely version of the soup, though to our detriment, because in lingering over the stuff, we actually missed our flight back to Dublin!
I’ve been wanting to try making French Onion soup for ages. It’s one of my favourite brews for a chilly day, and so unique to any other kind of soup I can think of. I also rarely see in on the menu in Ireland, which is a shame because I think it would be a real crowd-pleaser.
We went to the Drogheda Christmas Bonanza Festival this morning and I was delighted to see that one of the stalls was selling a favourite, extra-special cheese I’ve been dying to try broiled across some FO soup. It’s Tiernan’s Glebe Brethan, a local unpasteurized Grueyere-style cheese. It is creamy/nutty and has a wonderful elasticity when toasted, so I knew it would be just perfect for this dish. Plus I got to chat with the Tiernan family a bit back during my days as a barista and I can’t think of local farmers I’d rather support more!
I would also have loved to find some Sourdough bread, too, to make into traditional sourdough croutons, but as Sourdough is scarce in these parts, I did not find any today… so toasted sandwich bread had to suffice! Incidentally, I’m not crazy about soggy bread floating in the top of my soup, but in this case, I’m not sure how else the soft cheese would hold on, so I put up with the soggy bread.
When we got home this afternoon, I pulled a classic French Onion Soup recipe out of the Joy of Cooking and got straight to work. It’s a soup that takes care – typically French! – and today was a great day for looking after it. I thinly sliced up normal yellow onions, threw them into a pot with olive oil and a bit of rich melted butter, added a pinch of thyme, and off they went, for about an hour until they were completely shrunken and brown. In went a healthy glug of cognac, and after the alcohol had cooked out, I put in a couple cups of good beef stock, seasoned, and left to simmer.
The result? Wow. I’m back in Paris. 🙂
French Onion Soup is actually quite hard to photograph and make it look appetizing, in my opinion. Frank took the photo above and I still feel like I have to convince you a little bit to try this soup if you have never done so… but I also Googled other amateur photos of FO Soup and I think ours is pretty good, so don’t go looking if you’re unsure! 🙂 But seriously, even if you’re not a huge fan of onions, this soup is so rich and wonderful, almost sweet and sour because of the combination of onions and meaty broth, and the addition of a nutty cheese on top just makes it a delight. Another traditional cheese to use is Parmesan, but I still prefer a softer kind myself. The Glebe Brethan was gorgeous. So go ahead, give it a try. Viva la France!
________________________________________________________________________Copyright 2011 Maryann Koopman Kelly